Friday, June 3, 2011

Ithaca Excelsior! Thirteen

The first beer review of Season 14, too. What a way to start - with a 9% ABV wheat wine/weizenbock/double IPA from Ithaca Beer Company, right here in good ol' upstate New York. I had this at TAP NY Beer Fest a month ago and I thought it was the best beer of the entire festival. I decided to give it a formal review for the record, hoping this would be the first "10" I'd hand out in 2011. Would I? Watch and find out.....

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - JUN 3, 2011
I’ve often said I’m a big fan of experimental brewing and Ithaca Excelsior Thirteen is a good example of why. Depending on who you ask it’s a wheat wine, a weizenbock or an imperial IPA. If you ask me, it’s a hybrid of all three. Packed with flavor and spices you tend to get from the first two and the bitterness and aroma you tend to get from the latter, this is a very impressive anniversary ale.

I poured a 750ml bottle into a tulip glass.

Appearance: Slightly hazy marmalade, flame, dark amber color with particulates floating in the beer but very little carbonation evident. Forms a huge, fluffy, frothy, creamy white head which leaves gorgeous lacing on the glass throughout.

Smell: For a wheat-based beer this is very reminiscent of something in the IPA range. Massive hops are present in the nose with huge floral and tropical fruit aromas. Orange, tangerine and papaya seem to be the most prominent with a light, almost perfumey backbone. As the beer warms, it begins to emit a solvent or fusel-like smell, though.

Taste: I love it when beers have two distinct characteristics to their palate. That’s definitely the case with Ithaca 13 - the first half is a very bitter, dry hop assault. The bitterness almost scrubs my tongue with its intensity. The second half seems to be an apology for the first with a fruit cocktail-like assortment of flavors. Orange, orange peel and orange sherbet seem to be the dominating flavors here. It’s an impressive and refreshing change from the first half’s sheer bitter edge. The palate itself is almost refreshing due to its juicy qualities. Right on the finish is a quick burst of spice. Coriander, allspice, and clove kick the tongue right before the beer goes away. This all adds up for a complex and very tasty palate.

If I had to find a flaw it would be the fact the hops linger here. Not at first, but after a while to be sure. Slowly but surely it becomes cloying, but is still tolerable throughout.

Mouthfeel: Not quite thick and sticky, but not crisp and fizzy, either. Quite dry and bitter throughout with a slight bit of warmth.

Drinkability: At 9% ABV and with the robustness of a killer beer, Ithaca Excelsior Thirteen is still quite drinkable. While energetic in the mouth, it doesn’t tear up the tongue. And although it is noticeably dry in the aftertaste, it doesn’t suck all the moisture out of the mouth like many Belgian beers tend to do. There is noticeable warmth, but it’s overshadowed by the genuine flavors of the palate.

Overall, a very impressive and highly enjoyable beer in virtually all aspects. Not quite what I would consider perfect, but oh so close.

Grade: 9/10

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