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Beer Reviews

Deca

Founders Brewing Co.
Grand Rapids, MI
USA
http://www.foundersbrewing.com

Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 13.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)


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This review is a very special one for yours truly, Sir Nigel Aloysious Tanner. It’s my centennial celebration, an extravaganza marking review number 100, and I’d like to begin with a bit of reminiscing.

My first review, for Bell’s Consecrator Doppelbock, was published on October 18, 2006. It was a very short, succinct summarization without any lighthearted humor or adult themes. My, how the times have changed.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Nigel’s reviews are known for their extreme length, pathetic attempts at humor, and X-rated content. In preparation for my 100th review, I revisited all of my previous entries, which provided a nice trip down memory lane. I have been fortunate to sample and write about a number of quality brews and have been able to minimize the duds, but regardless of the outcome, they all hold a special place in my memory. I was able to recall specific events in my life that were happening in the background, some good and some bad. There were certain brews that coincided with some wonderful times and others that allowed me to escape during some rough times by sitting at the computer and entering the Beer Dork world, trying to forget my troubles by immersing myself in writing (the drinking helped, too).

As for changes, I’d likely make a few tweaks, but nothing too major. As my palate has evolved and my eyes have been opened to hundreds of brews of which I was previously ignorant, I would likely change some aspects of my earlier reviews (I’m not actually going to do that, as I believe in the idea of “live and let live”). For example, in my third review for Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, I gave it five mugs and raved about it being the best imperial IPA I’d ever had. While I’d stick with that five mug rating and still consider it a fantastic beer, I can now think of at least three or four DIPAs I’d prefer over that. A few reviews later, I downgraded Founders Centennial IPA one mug (it ended up with four) due to “chunkage” in the beer. That was stupid, but at the time I was still learning about the various nuances of unfiltered brews; Centennial IPA is now a definite five mugger in my opinion. Most of my mug ratings are still accurate, though there are a couple I’d likely change one mug either way (this is something I may do in the near future for sake of accuracy).

At times, particularly early on, I felt that I was a bit too silly, a bit too off point, a bit too cocky (as you may have figured out by now, I’m not actually British, I just play a Brit on TV … though I am of English ancestry), and a bit too vague about the specific aspects of the beer I was reviewing. While we like to keep things lighthearted here at BeerDorks.com, a couple of reviews made me wonder exactly how many of those brews I had indulged in before sitting down at my computer. I also got stuck on too many other topics, ranging from sports (something that’s hard for me to avoid because I’m an avid sports nut), to weather (something that’s hard to avoid because the weather in the Midwest is often topic number one), to pop culture. While I enjoyed rereading those reviews, I realize now that I tended to get a bit carried away. But again … live and let live.

With all that having been said, I must say I’m largely satisfied with what I’ve done, and I hope it has contributed to the overall quality of the site. Most importantly, I hope it has been both informative and entertaining for all of you readers out there in Beer Dork Land. What my earlier reviews may have lacked in comprehensiveness, I hope I was able to make up for in silliness, and I hope that the quality of my reviews has evolved along with my taste buds. I take craft beer very seriously, though I’m still fully aware of one very important fact: it’s just a hobby, and it’s not life or death. It’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable, and that’s what I try to portray each and every time I sit down to write about my experiences. So, without further ado, let’s get on to number 100.

I could think of no better beer to celebrate my 100th review with than Deca, the 10th anniversary release from what is currently my favorite Midwestern brewer, Founders. While Founders hasn’t received quite as much ink from Nigel as has Bell’s, Capital, and New Glarus, it has climbed to the top of my list over the course of the past year. Everything I’ve had from them has been absolutely phenomenal, though I haven’t reviewed too many of them (I’m honestly not sure why). In my opinion, nobody beats the overall quality of this brewer from top to bottom, with a number of fantastic, ballsy selections, be they loaded with hops, loaded with malt, or somewhere in between. Thus, I felt it was an appropriate time to finally crack open the bomber of Deca that I purchased in September, which was waiting patiently for a situation that justified drinking a $15 bottle of beer.

According to Founders, Deca has a “generous malt bill, with 10 hours in the kettle, a touch of hops, twice fermented with a blend of American and Belgian yeast strains, then conditioned with a delicate blend of spices.” Wow. I’ve seen this categorized as a barley wine, an herb/spiced beer, and a Belgian strong ale on various sites, but I think it’s a perfect example of the fact that we’re all WAY too eager to categorize things. It’s a ballsy, unique attempt at making a quality craft beer, and it doesn’t need to fall into a specific style category (and it’s an American strong ale, so there).

Deca opens with a bit of fog emerging from the bottle neck, typical for a brew with Belgian yeast that’s bottle conditioned and is capable of extended cellaring. The pour reveals a relatively lifeless brew that’s a cloudy caramel color, with a touch of white head that quickly evaporates, leaving only the slightest of lace at the top of the glass. There is a high amount of sedimentation, making this one of the hazier brews you’ll see anywhere. While I don’t feel that this falls into the barley wine category, it certainly looks like one in the glass.

The aroma is incredibly complex, with equal parts malt, sugar, spice, hops, and alcohol. It’s hard to distinguish which aromatic characteristic comes through at the forefront. I’m tempted to say it’s the alcohol, but there are so many different elements that it’s hard to be sure. There’s a slight bit of hoppiness, a noticeable zing of sweet caramel malt, as well as a strong aroma of licorice, cinnamon, cloves, dark fruits (plum and raisin), and sugary molasses. With a plethora of scents present in no particular order, it’s an aromatic sensation that rivals anything I’ve experienced previously.

The taste is good, though it doesn’t quite reach the five-mug level; too much of the 13% ABV comes through and some of the spices become overwhelming when combined with the thickness. Deca’s flavor is best described as unique and complex, and each individual drinker may have a vastly different experience with it. The initial flavor, even before you get to the heavy malt, is spice. It’s a bit too thick to really pinpoint the spices like you could with a Belgian ale or other similar brew, but I tasted licorice at the offset, followed by a tinge of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. A noticeable sweetness comes next, both from the thick, sugary malt (mainly caramel, toffee, and molasses), as well as dark fruit (raisin and fig). There is a hoppy bite in the distant background, but it’s hard to get to with so many other flavors present. A yeasty earthiness takes control at various points, not surprising considering that Founders used more flavorful Belgian yeast in conjunction with their American counterparts. Alcohol is very detectable as well, and seems to gain momentum as the beer warms (I found the ideal temperature was around 45-50 degrees … anything over that began to take away from the sweetness in favor of the spice and alcohol). This is a full-bodied, ultra-thick brew that goes down somewhat smooth at first, but gets rougher as the session progresses. The aftertaste is powerful, and with a hefty ABV and price tag to match, this is clearly a one-time only treat.

So there you have it … number 100 is in the books. Deca was a worthy adversary and I really enjoyed the experience, though it did fall short of the five-mug threshold. Despite that, I could think of no better brew to celebrate with, as it was complex, powerful, and defied specific classification, which is exactly what Nigel believes a good craft beer should be. This was a limited one-time release back in the late summer/early autumn of 2007 to celebrate Founders milestone year, so it may be pretty tough to locate should you not already have it and be interested in sampling. Should you see it, however, I think it’s worth the rather large investment.

Thanks again to all the loyal readers out there who keep this site going, and to my fellow Dorks for putting up with Nigel 100 painful times … and here’s to 100 more!

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 19, 2008.
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