Beer Alert! Trader Joe's Vintage Ale

Beer Alert! Trader Joe's Vintage Ale

Maybe you're not all that amped up about going out early tomorrow morning and waiting in a Black Friday-type crowd, all for the privilege of paying $43 for a bottle of Goose Island's Rare Bourbon County Stout. I know I'm not, but I also know I'll regret missing out on it.

But for some small consolation, I'm going to recommend another beer that just hit shelves this week. It hasn't been aged in 21 year old bourbon barrels, but it does cellar well, it costs 1/8th of what the Rare BCS runs, and it would be welcome at the holiday table. And it's available at an unlikely source:

Trader Joe's, the upscale brother of the Aldi grocery chain, is known for its wide range of private label economy beers, contract brewed by the likes of Gordon Biersch, Matt's, Minhas, Firestone Walker, and formerly Goose Island. These are on the shelves alongside better known craft beer from Two Brothers, Three Floyds and Dogfish Head, and is even a reliable source for North Coast Old Rasputin.

Trader Joe's Vintage Ale by Unibroue (Feature - Small)

A vertical run of six Trader Joe's Vintage Ales since 2005.

One of their store brands is Trader Joe's Vintage Ale, which has appeared once a year since 2005. It's a Belgian strong ale, running about 9% abv, and is contract brewed by Unibroue, the highly regarded Quebec maker of Belgian beers. The Vintage Ale is made with dark Belgian malts and spices, each year's batch being slightly different. Most years, the 750 ml (25 ounces) corked bottles are labeled as "ale on lees," meaning there's a layer of yeast sediment in the bottle for further fermenting, assuring the flavor will continue to evolve. Both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate members rate the vintages well into the 90th percentile for their style.

It's not quite a Two-Buck Chuck, but Trader Joe's 2010 Vintage Ale has gone on sale this week at $4.95 per 750 ml bottle. I rushed out to get my bottles, two to cellar and one for Thanksgiving dinner. I had heard that some stores were already down to just a few bottles because the employees snap them up for themselves. The clerk at my local said that yes, she has known managers who walk out the door with whole cases at shift change. So while I recommend you pick up this beer and start your own vertical collection at a bargain price, you may want to call ahead to your local Trader Joe's first.



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  • I have seen a few ratings trickle in to and for the 2011 TJ's Vintage Ale edition. I had previously asked an associate at my local store about the beer, and he said they only know it's coming when it actually arrives. So if you want to stock up for Thanksgiving dinners, now would be a good time to keep an eye open!

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    Mark McDermott

    Writer, trivia maven, fan of many things. I thought to learn all there is to know about beer as a way to stay interested in learning. It is my pleasure to bring Chicago's craft beer scene to you.

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