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Thursday, November 03, 2011

What's Up With the New Jubelale?

If you've had a chance to try the Jubelale this year, it may not have matched your expectations. This happens with beer drinkers all the time, largely because their memories are faulty or they have experienced unnoticed palate shift between samplings. With Jubel, though? You're not imagining things.

I've done two blind tastings of winter warmers (the original iteration that gave us Wassail and Snow Cap) over the past few years, and in both cases, Jubel came out on top. It had a candyish sweetness balanced by a perfect blush of peppery hops. It was incredibly smooth and warming, like a hot chocolate on a chill day.

This year's, by contrast, has a much pricklier hide. It's got some roast roughness and what I perceived as a dry tannic note. In fact, it was so dry I suspected that some wood-aged, brettanomyces-soured portion had been blended in. It is a startling departure from the Jubel of my memory. I shot Deschutes owner Gary Fish an email to get the lowdown, and he described the changes:
The original motivation for Jubelale that John Harris formulated was an English Old or Strong Ale.... I had been noticing for several years as our brewing techniques have gotten better and the equipment we were using became more sophisticated, a “drift” of our Jubelale flavoring to becoming, essentially, cleaner and drier (less estery). My comment to the brewers a couple years ago resulted in a project to, essentially, engineer back in the flavors or characteristics our processes were removing, but to do it deliberately, not by accident the way we, and most small brewers, have done things. The result is what you perceive as a change, whereas, from my perspective, we have simply returned to the way Jubelale used to taste, before these “improvements.” It is interesting you perceive wood aging. There is no wood aging in Jubelale, no brett, no oak.
So there you have it.

Fish says the beer is selling well and the customers seem to like the change. For my part, I think it's a step backward. The Jubelale of 2009 and the few years before was in my view a nearly perfected beer. There's not a thing I would have changed, even by the smallest degree. I will damn the new (or return to old) recipe by that weasel word we use in beer reviews and call it more "interesting" than the old Jubel. There is more going on here. So much, in fact, that I was completely thrown off about what was in the beer. Simplicity has its virtues, though, and the seductive balance and approachability of the recipe from a couple years ago was a triumph of clarity and drinkability. The new beer is more challenging, less satisfying and way, way less moreish.

That Deschutes will tinker with sacred cows and risk losing customers like me by reformulating recipes is one of the many reasons I think it's a model for large craft breweries. Deschutes has launched a branding strategy based on the slogan "bravely done," but they've earned it. This is a ballsy move, and the consequence is that people like me will buy less Jubel this year. They've always bet on their own palates, though, and Fish clearly believes they'll earn more customers in the trade-off. (And it may work, if reviews like this are any indication.)

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Relatedly, I had this year's Full Sail Wassail last night, and it is an excellent vintage. (There was one in the early aughts that remains the standard-bearer, but this one's not super far behind.) Wassail is sometimes a bit hoppy for my taste, but this year's is a wonderful blend of chocolate and caramel malts and assertive woody hopping. It is deeper and rounder than some years--my preference in a winter ale. Stock up--this is definitely a beer to have in the fridge for the long nights ahead.

10 comments:

ChaseT said...

I liked this year's version way better. Last year I had a 4oz taster at the pub and that was more than enough. This year, I bought a single 12oz bottle and liked it so much that I followed that up with a full case purchased at Costco.

Bill Schneller said...

"The original motivation for Jubelale that John Harris formulated was an English Old or Strong Ale." Burton ales live on (albeit in a NW interpretation)

Dave Butler said...

I had the ability to review this year's Jubeale Ale without having tried any of the past years, so there wasn't any comparison I had to go off of. While the beer did have a drying effect I still really enjoyed it and wasn't disappointed at all. For comparison you can check out my review here

jfwellspdx said...

I do not know if it is all in my mind, or if there is any reason for it, but Jubelale always tastes a bit "rough" to me early in the season. By mid November it is my go-to beer, though.

DA Beers said...

I actually preferred this years version over last years as well. It was a bit softer on the bitterness, the licorice was more mellow than I remember, and had a stronger chocolate flavor upfront.

Jon said...

This is interesting because someone at the Brewery told me it was the same Jubelale as previous years, just this year's EKG hop crop was different.

But given Gary's comments, I wouldn't be surprised if they've used a bit of sour mash in the formulation this year, I've heard Gary speak of how adding a bit of sour mash really makes a beer pop... so no wood or Brett directly, but not entirely off either.

This reminds me a bit of when they were testing out Mirror Pond reformulations and Jeff (and Gary) talked me down on that one. :)

Brewmance said...

Well the article has worked in making me want to buy a 6-pack of it this year. I liked years past, but last years really didn't do it for me.. too much in the spice department. Perhaps this dryer flavor will bring me back to it. I am not a huge fan of the style overall.

Cozmic Charlie said...

I've been drinking Full Sail's Wassail since it's origin..early 90's. It's rarely disappointed unlike Jubel.

Kevin said...

I think DA nailed it with "a stronger chocolate flavor upfront." I'm not sure if I prefer this to the more candied-fruit Jubelale of years past...I believe more research is in order.

Cheers!
Kevin
Beer and Coding

Anonymous said...

Thumbs down on the new taste. Very dissappointing when you've been waiting all year.

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