Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale (2013 original review)

3.2
   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (840) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 30, 2013

I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It had a best before date of 6/23/13 making it about three months shy of its expiration date.
Appearance: Dark ruby red/black hue. Forms a small, white, foamy head which doesn’t completely evaporate and even leaves lacing on the glass.

Smell: Similar to that of a dunkel lager with a distinct lager scent and some malty notes. Otherwise mild and muted.

Taste: New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale is one of those beers that defies modern style guidelines. The brewery claims the beer is based on a recipe found in a Belgian book dated 1554. They also say it’s brewed with a lager yeast, but still consider it an ale. So using the term "black ale" in the name of a beer tends to lead the drinker to believe they’re about to drink something close to a "Black IPA" or "Cascadian Dark Ale" or other such brew, but 1554 is closer to a generic dark lager. I was shocked that upon my first sip I tasted a palette reminiscent of a cheap pale lager. All I could think was, "WTF"!?

It took me a few sips to wrap my head around this beer. I was disappointed that it was so unlike the Black IPA I was hoping for, and eventually managed to appreciate what was here. Though dark in color its taste is nothing like a traditional Schwarzbier, but lacks the refined sweetness of a dunkel lager. In fact, it’s hard to describe what flavors are in here other than those found in typical pale lagers, but without the overt pilsner character. It’s slightly sweet with a hint of fruit and maybe some cocoa powder or other candy-like flavors, but for the most part it’s mild and boring. Why it’s brewed with lager yeast instead of ale yeast I don’t know, as the latter would probably make it closer to a traditional mild or bitter. It’s not that this beer is bad, it’s more that it’s weird. I could see myself (or anyone) learning to enjoy it over time, but I can’t envision ever being really excited by it.

Drinkability: One thing New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale has going for it is its drinkability. An ideal beer for those new to craft beer due to its mild taste and comfortable mouthfeel. Definitely lager-like in its delivery, but not overly fizzy and it finishes fairly clean. I wouldn’t consider it refreshing, though, nor would I see this working with food or as dessert. It’s a stand-alone beverage. At 5.6% ABV it’s probably where it should be in terms of strength, if not even a little light on its toes since it feels like something much lighter. 
Grade: 5/10

NOTE: See my 2016 re-review here.