Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Day 129, Beer 129 - Traquair's "Jacobite"

Today's Beer

Name – Jacobite

Brewer – Traquair

Classification – Strong spiced ale

Strength – 8.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Dark brown doing a very decent impersonation of jet black. It had me totally fooled.

On the nose – Understated berry fruits, over some equally muted licorice malts.

On the tongue – Rich sweetness, deep fruits, subtle spices, tremendous smoky/oaky 'feelgood' warmth. But there's something suspiciously 'different' going on here... (read on)

On the subject – If, for some reason that I cannot reasonably conceive of, Traquair suddenly decided to have all of their awards melted down, they'd probably have enough metal to build a fleet of ships. This is only a very minor exaggeration. Considering they only brew three beers, their enormous success and formidable reputation is all the more impressive.

On the market – Not one you'll find lining the aisles in every supermarket across Britain, but that's 'coz it's dead posh. Try online at Only Fine Beers.

On the

Full Review

There's been a tremendous surge of 'funky' new black beers cascading onto the market over recent times, which is unquestionably fantastic news for the industry as a whole.

But it's not good news for everyone, least of all for the black beers who were 'funky' around ten years ago – long before the craft beer storm of the century had begun.

Jacobite is one of those beers.

This mighty brew had been one of benchmarks for British dark beers for well over a decade, it had blazed an elegant and dignified trail for ales of darkness with it's all complex richness, it's unique use of spice, and it's nobly non-conformist edge.

You would suppose that when a beer has been as finely crafted as this, there's every reason why it should stand tall in the face of any newer kids on the block.

But, it pains me to say that something is not quite right here. Rather than rise to the challenge posed by these cocky upstarts, this old favourite seems to me to have taken the unusual step of heading upstairs to bed.

Quite literally - right in the midsts of these dynamic days of globe-spanning experimentation, wild creative abandon and unbridled ingenuity - this venerated classic tastes dormant. Like it just can't be bothered.

Or, in another sense, it almost seems as though the beer itself is concious of the new threats to its high status, and it's now holding elements of itself back due to a fear of rejection.

One way or another – something feels lacking, and it has never tasted that way before.

The edges feel blurred, the previously formidable 'spirit' of the drink feels oddly subdued, and as a consequence – the whole build of the beer feels off-kilter.

Now, you have to understand that I'm talking about very small degrees here. The craftspeople at Traquair are simply too adept for this to have become broken beyond repair, but it does feel like a different drink to me, and there are all manner of things that might have caused this to have happened, many of which could be far beyond the control of the team in the brewhouse. It really wouldn't be fair for me to speculate on those causes.

But the effects are clear.

The chief problem is one of specificity. The whole things feels slightly mushy. Cluttered. The knock-on of this overlap of flavours is that the beer has gone from being slick, nuanced and enigmatic – and become soupy, one-dimensional and predictable.

After my previous encounters with this beer – I'd never have thought it possible for it to be anything but deeply complex and invigorating, so I'm actually somewhat alarmed by what I found today. Not least because my recent encounter with this brewery's other famous beer went so spectacularly well.

But let me put things into proper perspective. This is still pretty good stuff. It's got all the rich cocoa, dark berry and licorice intensity that you'd expect from a beer of this kind, and the addition of spices (chiefly coriander) does lend a unique, genteel quirkiness to the character. It's an ideal ale for a winter's night – just as it always has been.

It also delivers plenty of what I can only describe as 'feelgood' warmth. Yes, it's easy to argue that any beer of this strength has the capacity to 'influence the mood', but there's always been something unique about this ale's power to please, and I wouldn't be surprised if that 'spice' was involved in this somehow.

So it's not all bad, by any means. This beer has still got some of its mojo operating as well as ever, but there is a definite sense that it's just not at the top of its game right now, for reasons that remain unclear to me.

A recent change of personnel, location or recipe? It's hard to tell. But there has been a change of something.

I took the unusual step of taking a quick look for 'wider opinion' before posting this, and the first place I looked (one of those multi-user opinion/rating websites) showed that this was a massively highly rated beer – but which had many recent reviews taking a real nosedive, with some commentators mentioning differences or a drop in quality.

Initially, my heart leapt to see this correlation with my response, but then it rapidly sank when I realised the probability that something was amiss was now even greater.

Again, this is not a crisis I'm talking about. In the greater scheme of things these differences are almost microscopic.

But for a beer with such a heritage – with a reputation based largely on power defying nuance – microscopic change is all that's required to upset all of those the finely tuned subtleties and intricacies.

As things stand, some of these details have become lost, leaving us with a beer which is merely good – rather than one which is utterly remarkable.

I know which one I preferred.

I hope to see it return.

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