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Mercy Grand Cru

Other reviews for this beer:
Eddie Glick one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer read it ›
Ale Asylum
Madison, WI

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 9.5%

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

It may be a few days late, but Nigel is finally ready to welcome in the New Year in Beer, kicking off his 2009 reviews with a powerful Belgian ale from Madison’s Ale Asylum, Mercy Grand Cru. 2008 ended and 2009 began the exact same way for Nigel: with a nasty cold that held for a full week, making beer consumption unfortunately scant. However, with the last of the mucus banished to the tissue gods, I figured it’s about frickin’ time I actually contributed to this site (Nigel has also been extremely busy lately at his other job, which is selling macaroni noodle trinkets to Japanese tourists).

Before I begin, I have to recap Christmas 2008 at the Nigel household. Not that any of you really care, but Nigel received the finest of gifts this year from his lovely girlfriend, Danish Princess, who may need a new name in 2009 given the fact that she is neither Danish nor a princess. Anyway, when we finally settled in to exchange our gifts on the 29th of December (this after spending five days straight at various family functions, the last of which was with a family that neither of us knew), the grandest of gifts came my way. “Ah, it must be beer,” you say. While beer is certainly a grand gift unto itself, this was better, and I couldn’t believe my eyes upon opening:

The box was labeled “Fragile!”

For those of you unfamiliar with the classic holiday movie A Christmas Story, that was likely more confusing than funny. But alas, it wasn’t the fact that the contents were indeed “frageelee,” but that inside said boxes were two … that’s right, TWO sets of fine beer glasses, each one with the logo emblazoned on the side. Danish Princess spent much time and hassle (and moola) shipping delicate glassware to 16 different locations across the state of Wisconsin with the intent of getting our logo etched in glass, and man did she succeed. And, mind you, these aren’t your cheap, dime-a-dozen pint glasses. Au contraire, bonjour … it’s fine glassware designed for drinking fine beer. It’s the second greatest gift I’ve ever received, being edged out only slightly by Christmas 1997, when crazy Uncle Stuart gave Nigel a couple of Flemish hookers. (In case you’re wondering, I gave Danish Princess plenty of fine gifts in return, including a mini multi-tool and a wobble penguin).

So here I sit, drinking a fine Belgian ale out of the greatest glassware that has ever been produced. This would be my first foray into the “extreme” element of Ale Asylum. My past experiences were the very good (but not great) Hopalicious and Ambergeddon, the so-so Mad Town Nut Brown, and the not-so-good Contorter Porter. I’ve yet to buy into all the hype that surrounded Ale Asylum initially, although it seems that hype has died down and they’ve settled into their role as another quality Midwest brewer that hasn’t done enough to enter into the elite.

Mercy Grand Cru is a 9.5 percent ABV monster, a Belgian dark ale that marks Ale Asylum’s first attempt at a bottled seasonal beer. Mercy pours well, with a creamy tan head of about an inch or so that settles nicely into my chalice, leaving a picturesque creamy lace throughout and some stickiness on the sides. A deep coppery hue with some sedimentation, Mercy looks like you’d expect, containing all the proper visual characteristics of a strong Belgian dark. The aroma follows suit, with the earthy notes of yeast bombarded by boatloads of spice. Belgian strains give the typical aromas of fruity banana and orange peel, spiced with coriander, clove, and a hint of cinnamon. Light caramel malt gives a touch of sweetness to the aroma, which is topped off with a bit of alcohol. While not overpowering by any means, Mercy has a very complex, pleasant aroma.

The taste is good, but falls short of greatness. As a Belgian dark, some of the spicy notes present in the aroma get drowned out by the malt. It’s a bit thicker and a touch milder than I expected, but does still pack a punch. Mercy’s initial flavors are caramel and toffee malt with a touch of clove, black pepper, and cinnamon. More earthy than spicy, the yeast and malt do a good job of pelting the tongue with a constant stream of grassiness, aided by a decent addition of American hops. Light fruit is present as well, mainly orange zest and grapefruit with a touch of banana. Top it off with an alcoholic bite, and you’ve got one Hell of a beer here. However, I can’t say I was too impressed, though I’m not totally sure as to why. I settled on a four mug rating after heavily debating a three, but I can’t totally grasp why I was left feeling a bit hollow. It has all the qualities I wanted: spicy, sugary, sweet, fruity, earthy, hoppy, but while it was complex and tasty, it failed to fully tie all of those elements together. It seemed a bit disjointed, and failed to leave that lasting impression that I hoped it would. Full bodied, Mercy goes down smooth at first, but the alcohol presence grows as the session progresses, leaving it a bit rough on the palate towards the end.

Overall, I’d give Ale Asylum a thumbs-up on their first bottled seasonal, although I believe they can do better. While worthy of a chalice, Mercy Grand Cru lacks the intangibles that would push it into the upper echelons of fine American craft brews, and certainly falls short of the best that Belgium has to offer. While I was left slightly disappointed, I’d certainly recommend sampling it should you have the opportunity, but do it quickly … Mercy is a very limited offering that is sure to vanish from store shelves soon.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 7, 2009.
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