Beer Review – Shmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation

Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Vertical Jewbelation Ale

It’s been a little while since I posted a review on the site, given the immediacy and convenience of Facebook for conveying spontaneous beer-related information. The blog serves as a better venue, however, for more in-depth reviews of standout beers beyond a photo and a 140 character blurb. I’m going to endeavor to write one of these review pieces fairly frequently, with a particular emphasis on beers that are available locally. As I’ve often lamented, southern Illinois has been found wanting in the better beer department for far too long. It’s time to celebrate the fact that we now have a great variety of world class beers available to us, thanks to the buy-in of retailers and the ever-expanding portfolio of distributors like Koerner Distributor, Inc.

One such beer in Koerner’s impressive craft beer portfolio is Shmaltz Brewing Company’s He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation – a massive ale that falls roughly into the broad-shouldered category of “wood and barrel-aged strong beer,” for lack of a better place to put it (thanks Brewers Association). My sample came straight from the brewery and struck me in this manner …

Appearance – The beer pours a deep brown color with glowing ruby highlights and a voluminous head of cocoa brown foam that persists forever. Active carbonation can be seen rising up to feed the beast.

Aroma – Dark, roasted malt dominated by aggressive notes of spice, vanilla and oak contributed by the time spent in 6 year Sazerac rye whiskey barrels. A little boozy, but mellowing to softer notes as the beer warms slightly in the snifter.

Flavor – Following the nose’s lead, rye whiskey is the featured component of this beer, although the substantial malt backbone provides an ample vehicle to carry the heady flavors of barrel-aged whiskey to the palate. Spicy hops are present in a supporting role and help keep the beer from coming across as cloying despite the massive amount of sweet malt required to produce such a formidable strong ale. This is a well-balanced “big” beer if there truly exists such a creature and the interplay of sweet malts, wood, lively hops and alcohol attest to the brewer’s (and blender’s) art.

Body –  As one might guess, the mouth feel here is thick and luscious, with smooth carbonation easing a slow alcohol burn in the back of the mouth. The beer is wholly designed to enjoy as a sipper much like it’s inspiration in the spirit world. As the beer warms to ambient temperature, the body becomes even more rounded, thick and soft allowing the interplay of whiskey and wood to steal the show.

Over All Impression – This is a beer to be reckoned with, for certain, and it deserves its place alongside the better examples of oak-aged strong ales and stouts you might find from the likes of Firestone Walker, Great Divide or North Coast. The flavors are a bit over-the-top, but this is no flaw for the style category, where “the bigger the better” tends to rule the day. If you’re a whiskey drinker, you’ll be right at home here. If you’re a lager drinker, you may curse audibly. Either way, you’ll know you’ve imbibed in a memorable beer that is not ashamed to go all Old-Testament on your palate.

Notes – A few more interesting facts about this beer. It’s a blend of the last seven Jewbelation recipes, beginning with ‘8’ and ending with ’14.’ This is Shmaltz’s 3rd barrel-aged release. My sample was from batch #001, bottled on 10/4/2010 … a very fresh sample from the brewery. I have to wonder what this one would do with a year or two of dust on the bottle in the cellar. I may have to find out.

For the locals, you can find Vertical Jewbelation at Kindling Spirits in Carterville or Westroads Liquors in Carbondale. It’s also available, I might add, in Shmaltz’s He’Brew Holiday Gift Pack – a collection of all seven beers in the Jewbelation series found in Vertical Jewbelation, along with a bottle of Vertical. That’s eight beers in the pack and you’ll even get a special glass, Chanukah candles and thr all-important instructions on how to build your very own beer bottle menorah. L’chayim!

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