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Mercy Grand Cru

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Ale Asylum
Madison, WI

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 9.5%

Eddie’s Rating:
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Once again we return to Ale Asylum, the tiny brewery in Madison, Wisconsin (need a job?) that has loads of potential, thanks to head brewer Dean Coffey and his experience brewing Belgian-style ales. Tonight’s entry is Mercy, described as a grand cru. Stylewise this is meaningless: grand cru is usually applied—mostly by Belgian breweries—to a brewer’s extra-special beer. It’s borrowed from the world of rotten grape juice, but big swathes of Belgium are French-speaking, so it kind of makes sense. But to peg this brew’s style, we’re going to call it a strong Belgian-style ale.

The pour is a medium gold, not as dark as I was expecting. The head is thin and dissipates almost immediately after the thoroughly vigorous pour is finished. I stare down into the abyss of the snubby bottle; Mercy does not appear to be bottle conditioned.

I let the beer sit for a few beats to get acclimated to the room temp, then take a couple of deep snoot fulls. The main aroma is peppery Belgian ale yeast adorned with hints of dark fruit. All’s well here.

The sipping starts. The mouthfeel is medium, maybe even scraping the boundaries of “soft.” The body is pretty heavy for a Belgian, even a darker one, but from the bottle copy it looks like that’s what Dean Coffey and crew were going for. The front of the sip is pretty aggressive, with both hops and carbonation stinging the tongue. This gives way to a middle with moderate notes of chocolate and plum. This is followed quickly by what seems almost like lactose sweetness. Frickin’ bizarre, is what it is. Maybe it’s malt mixed with a tiny hint of lactic sourness. Strange weirdness. And … intriguing. The finish is long, dark, and sweet. The spiciness you’d expect from the Belgian yeast doesn’t really come out to play until the beer starts to warm up. As the brew warms, that pleasant zestiness shows up earlier and earlier in the sip. What also shows up as Mercy warms is some definite fusel alcohols—shocker, considering it’s only, oh, 9.5 percent ABV. But on bigger sips that solvent-like character really shows itself, lending a bit of harshness to the sip that really shouldn’t be in a Belgian-style ale striving to be world-class.

This one was close. Really close. I appreciate how Dean Coffey didn’t hold back and swung for the fences on this one. I’ll give him points for that. But this beer is all over the map tastewise, making it, at times, almost unpleasant to drink. One sip seems like heaven, then the next you’re ready to pour it out. But, I am going to recommend it. It’s worth picking up a four-pack of Mercy. And, for once, the folks at Ale Asylum went all the way. I guess that’s all I can really ask of a brewery.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on January 21, 2009.
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