In terms of beer appreciation, nothing prepares you quite as well as home brewing. It allows you to become familiar with the way ingredients express themselves, and also to identify off-flavors. One of the skills you develop as a home brewer is tasting beer at various stages of maturation and extrapolating about what it will taste like in finished form. A home brewer can transfer a week-old batch of beer and determine a great deal from an ounce of warm, flat, under-fermented liquid. (Bad home brewers, like me, are also excellent at ignoring what we know. I've got a batch of old ale in the basement that's been aging for 3 months in the bottle, and when I had one last week, still convinced myself that it would come around ... eventually.)
All of which is to say that Deschutes' latest Reserve Series beer, Jubel 2010, is a work in progress. Last night I had a goblet with a local beer geek and video maven--who can identify himself or not, as he prefers--to discuss an overly ambitious idea I have for a brewing documentary. (Side note to arts patrons: email if you want to get in on the ground floor. Producer credits available!)
Jubel 2010 is a decade-later echo of a souped-up version of Jubel the brewery bottled back in 2000 (and which its been releasing on tap as "Super Jubel"). For my money, calling this beer Jubel is a little misleading. Regular Jubelale is 6.7% alcohol and has 60 IBUs and is one of the best examples of a winter warmer available--a perfect balance of malt, hops, and alcohol warmth. Jubel 2010 is a barleywine-strength 10%, but actually has five fewer IBUs. Because hop bitterness is a relative measure--the more malt you have, the less you perceive a given amount of bitterness units--this means Jubel 2010 is waaaaay sweeter. It is in no way a winter warmer. At this stage, it reminds me a great deal of a ruby port. Lots of grapey, fruity sweetness. (It was aged in pinot barrels.) The sweetness doesn't quite cloy, but like some sweet liquors, snuggles right up to the line. I had a 10-ounce goblet and felt that that was plenty.
I give Deschutes credit for producing a beer that is drinkable at release. Jubel 2010 is a creamy, gentle digestif-type beer that is perfectly approachable right out of the gate. So far, the reaction on BeerAdvocate is uniformly positive. But in my home brewer mode, what I taste is a beer that hasn't yet become its final self. As with this winter's Abyss, Jubel 2010 is stamped with a "best after" date, and I encourage people to take that seriously. Strong, dark beers age well, and Jubel 2010 should dry out a bit more and allow the alcohol to come forward to balance out the sweetness. I would hope that the strong grape note will recede a bit, too.
I still have yet to pick up bottles from the store--$11 is a lot for a single beer--but I'm encouraged that in a few years' time, I'll be glad I did. It's fine, but Deschutes wants it to wow. With beers like this, patience is the final ingredient.