Fellow Albany beer blogger Craig of "Drink Drank" is back after about a month to help me review a beer that's been in my fridge for quite a while now. You might remember Sierra Nevada releasing four special beers for their 30th anniversary back in 2010. A lot of those bottles are still in circulation and my beer store had them marked at half off trying to move them, so I thought I'd give this imperial helles bock a try and have Craig help me kill this bottle.
3.8AROMA 7/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 15/20
You don’t tend to associate lagers with 750ml caged and corked bottles, much less two-year-old vintages, but that’s exactly how I experienced Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred and Ken’s Bock. I tend to be a fan of imperial lagers and "Helles Bocks" such as this, but never experienced a bottle-conditioned vintage before. So maybe this isn’t an entirely fair or accurate review, but since there are still plenty of bottles in circulation this review reflects what you might expect if you buy a bottle today.
I split a 750ml bottle with a friend. We each poured it into lager glasses.
Appearance: Bright orange color bordering on dark gold. Slight hazy at first, but becomes extremely cloudy toward the bottom of the bottle. Fine carbonation bubbles are easily visible and they never stop bubbling. Forms a large, white, foamy head which lingers throughout the life of the beer but doesn’t lace the glass that much.
Smell: Sweeter and stronger-smelling than your average lager, but still has a distinct lager aroma to it. Hints of honey and light flowers with very slight candy or powdered drink sweetness.
Taste: The bottle doesn’t indicate what hops, malts and other ingredients went into the beer, but it is by far the sweetest lager I’ve ever had. Massive honey flavor throughout the palate, but especially on the second half. The head is so big and foamy it’s impossible to take a swig without getting some bubbly, dry, biscuity/almost peppery spice flavor at the beginning of each swig. It’s by not means Belgian-tasting, but there’s definitely some Belgian-like qualities to it (which is both strange and impressive considering this is an American lager).
The second half is akin to something I’d expect in a strong blonde ale - pure honey and caramel, with some butterscotch and other light confectionary flavors (including gold lollipop, which I don’t really like). I can tell this beer was brewed with a lot of traditional West Coast hops as there seem to be residual, almost watery flavors of lemon and orange, but with a drier, less flavorful bitterness. Drinking half of this bottle was satisfying and tasty, but the sweetness becomes cloying after not too long. An impressive and interesting experience, but nothing amazing.
Drinkability: Weighing in at 8.3% ABV, it’s not surprising Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred and Ken’s Bock is a thicker, heavier beer all around. Full-bodied throughout with consistent flavor. Even after two years the bottle is still quite effervescent and bubbly. It’s almost a self-cleaning palate due to the fizziness, although the malty sweetness is strong enough to last. While some carbonation does get stuck in the throat, this is not a beer that’s difficult to get down - it’s just not something you drink more than a swig at a time.