Friday's here, so it's time for beer.
Every Friday, so long as the creek don't rise, this beer enthusiast will take a look at a Florida beer that, hopefully, should be readily available in a local shop or on tap at your favorite bar.
Like television shows trying to make the 100 episode mark to be able to make it into syndication, or cricket batsmen seeking to round out a century of runs, reaching the '100th' of something is a significant milestone. It's no doubt, then, that Due South devised a way to make one of their signature beers, the Caramel Cream Ale, into something very special: the Imperial Caramel Cream Ale.
As the end of their first year in operation was approaching, the 100th batch was looming on the horizon. "It came up quick," Mike Jurewicz, Due South's brewery operations manager admits. "At around the 80th batch, we had to have a discussion to come up with what the 100th one would be. [Imperial Caramel Cream] is the one that made the most sense."
The use of the word 'imperial' in beer parlance to describe a big beer has been commonplace in the stout world for at least a couple of centuries. In the 18th century, enterprising British brewers were sending dark ales, like stouts and porters, across the Baltic sea to reach the courts of Russia through the port of St. Petersburg. They were purposefully brewed with a higher alcohol percentage (to keep it from freezing and spoiling on the arduous journey) and higher hop ratio. The style was a hit in imperialist Russia, hence the moniker 'imperial'.
The term stayed in the realm of stouts and porters for quite a while, until enterprising American brewers started to use 'imperial' to describe any beer that was big and bold, usually a built up version of a previous style. You may have sampled an imperial India pale ale, or an imperial pilsner, which are all extra special versions of their former selves.
So with that quick history lesson out of the way, what does that mean for the imperial cream ale? Let's have Due South's Mike Jurewicz explain. "This beer requires more fermentables, more grain. This will increase the body and give it a little bit of that alcohol heat. We had to use more whole vanilla beans [to round it out]. It seems to be a slow sipper, and changes flavors a bit while it warms up."
At 8.2% abv, it's definitely a beer made for snifters. If you enjoy the base Caramel Cream, this is going to be like a flourless chocolate cake to your cupcake. It has a mild and unassuming nose when it's cool, but that opens up to a rich sweet mouthfeel that's almost syrupy, but never cloying. The fresh vanilla hits through, and it's always nice to have that non-artificial vanilla extract flavoring, which can be tiresome in most other foods. It leaves a crisp and sweet flavor after each sip. Let this one warm up, too. As it warms, the butterscotch flavors come out to battle the vanilla.
Overall, it's a great special occasion beer (and reminds me of something close to a barleywine), but one that will only be around for special occasions. "It's probably not going to be a regular release, but one we do on occasion," Mike said. So grab a glass in the tasting room if you can, and pick up a growler to take it with you.
As always, drink good beer, and #drinklocal.
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