Smoked Belgian Ale

Top Shelf Smoked Belgian style Ale
22 oz bottle, $6.00, 8% ABV

Purchased at brewery

smokedHoly hell. What a nightmare. I know there are those in this world who enjoy smoked beers, but let me just say this up front: I am not one of them.

Now, I recognize they can be done well and rauchbiers have been in existence for over a century. I’ve had a decent one at Cambridge House Brewpub, but my list ends there. I write this in early 2014 knowing that Hooker is playing around with some smoked something and my beloved NEBCO will soon be releasing a smoked old ale as their Fat Ten-Er #5 experiment.

So maybe one or both of them will sway my opinion on this smoked business… we’ll see. 2 months after suffering 3 sips of this Top Shelf effort though, I think I still taste the smoke in the back of my throat. *Hocks a loogie.*

Top Shelf has only been in existence since late 2013 and they’ve had a rough go at it. They seem to be a group of likable fellows and no one wants to see them fail. Unfortunately, they’ve had a rather wide-spread infection issue pretty much since day one. Three or four months after their grand opening, they took to social media in an effort to hire a head brewer and a marketing person.

Probably not a good thing.

The crazy thing about this particular beer was that it was the rare uninfected Top Shelf bottle! Look, I’m not here to be a jerk. I’m here to be honest. With the CT brewery explosion of 2013 (and the coming supernova of 2014), they can’t all be great. But they certainly CAN all be good, right?

Top Shelf says:

“Belgian style ale with a smokey, caramelized burnt-toffee twist.

Beer is a product of science, art and faith. Science defines the process to yield predictable results (brewing). Art is the unique expression of this process (recipe). Faith is the confidence in nature to run its course (fermentation). Nothing embodies this concept better than the monastic ales of Belgium. Our Belgian style ale is a tribute to the marriage of American and Belgian brewing traditions. Cheers!”

In Top Shelf world, they have their flagship Belgian Ale and then they did a “limited” run of 600 smoked versions. I got # 18. SIX-HUNDRED?! That’s not “limited” for a brand new brewery! That’s what’s known as a crap-load. Anyway…

smokThe longer bottle blurb is from the Belgian Ale, as they used the same labels. There’s just too much going on there for me to get into it right now; perhaps I’ll do that on another Top Shelf review. But I can’t let go the idea that “faith is the confidence in nature to run its course.” For that is certainly not what “faith” is at all. Nature exists. It follows rules. Faith is the thing where people put trust in the unknowable, indefinable, and unmeasurable for some insane reason.

It seems like Top Shelf is putting too much “faith” in their business. With this smoked Belgian, as I understand it, they brewed the beer and then dropped in some sort of smoked pellets or chips of some sort. I’m sorry I don’t really remember, but I do know it was NOT smoked malt or smoked grains or barrel aged.

And at least it wasn’t liquid smoke, although that’s exactly what it tasted like. This beer terrified me. I’m all for experimentation with beer and as the industry matures and saturates, we’re only going to get more and more of this type of thing.

But really? Dropping a buttload of smoke chips or pellets or whatever into a halfway decent Belgian ale is not the way to go. I’d like to thank Top Shelf for taking the hit on this experiment, so no one else has to endure this nonsense. This beer was SO smokey it was insane. Picture yourself at a campfire with your buddies, enjoying an average-at-best beer. But you don’t care, because you’re having fun with your buddies in the woods.

Why do we always use “buddies” when we talk of camping or fishing or whatever?

smokerAnyway, as you take a drink, the wind shifts and the fire smoke envelopes your entire being, and fills your mouth and nostrils with its acrid burn. And there you have your first sip of this beer.

Then go pick up an old burnt ember from the campfire and chew on it. Now you’ve had your second sip of this beer.

Now that I think about it, this could very well have been infected too, but the dousing of smoke would have hidden it. Christ, the smoke in this beer would hide the taste of death.

By the way, I’m sure I’m reading into this way too much, but when I bought this bottle at the brewery, it was a dollar cheaper than the regular Belgian Ale. Think about that – ostensibly, this beer took more effort, more time, more thought and more “crafting,” not to mention the hand-numbering of the bottles. Yet they were cheaper than the standard beer from whence it came.

Draw your own conclusions about that fact.

Overall Rating: F
Rating vs. Similar style: F-

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