The beer most commonly associated with Unibroue is La Fin Du Monde (French for "the end of the world"). While this flagship tripel is undoubtedly deserving of its loyal following, the brewery produces a far broader spectrum of “Belgian-style” ales that are not to be missed.
In 2007, Unibroue released its first batch of Grand Reserve 17, a dark Belgian-style Strong ale that is spiced and aged on French oak. Since its release, it has been awarded with countless medals in beer competitions worldwide. Their most recent release, bottled in 2011, comes in a 750ml cork-finished bottle that is adorned with a beautifully simplistic label that does much to show Unibroue's modesty as pertaining to this behemoth of an ale.
Upon popping the cork an aroma of deep chocolate and roasted malts emanate from the bottle, carried easily to the nose by generous levels of carbonation, the result of the bottle refermentation process. The aromatics linger, and begin to offer notes of spices and vanilla as the carbonation level starts to lessen.
The deceptively light-bodied ale glows a deep mahogany as it is poured into a tulip. One cannot help but make the comparisons to dark-finished, exotic hardwoods while staring into the depths of its color complexity. The head is like a dollop of whipped caramel that provides a stark and lasting contrast to the rich and dark beer below.
Upon first sip, it is surprising to note that the ale does not lie heavily on the palate (given the 10% alcohol weigh-in); rather, it rides across the tongue in a smooth cascade of complex flavor that never endeavors to overwhelm the drinker. Caramel, chocolate, and fruity characters are balanced with a subtle essence of vanillins from the oak. A mild nuance of black pepper becomes apparent, while cardamom and perhaps cinnamon work in tandem to cut through the inherent sweetness of the malts at play. As the ale warms, notes of dark fruit and alcohol become the predominant players on the palate, and they provide a warming sensation that sends nostalgic thoughts of fall racing into the mind.
Personally, I view this to be a triumphant beer – a wonderful stylistic variance that is deserving of all awards given. This bottle holds its own with monastic, and other true Belgian produced ales such as Malheur, Nostradamus, and even Corsendonk. If you do not believe me, I suggest you find a bottle and find out for yourself.
Unibroue Grand Reserve is $15.09/750ml at Siciliano's Market.