Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale - Trader Joe's Brewing Company

Not Rated.
Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage AleTrader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale

Educational use only; do not reuse.
very good

312 Ratings
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 312
Reviews: 120
rAvg: 3.8
pDev: 13.95%
Wants: 5
Gots: 79 | FT: 5
Brewed by:
Trader Joe's Brewing Company
California, United States

Style | ABV
Belgian Strong Dark Ale |  9.00% ABV

Availability: Limited (brewed once)

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: hreb on 11-13-2011

This beer is retired; no longer brewed.

No notes at this time.
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Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 312 | Reviews: 120
Reviews by Shibbykaiyai:
Photo of Shibbykaiyai
3.38/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A decent strong dark belgian. I buy 12 or so each year, usually celar-ing one or two for later in the year when I am looking for something more potent than the usual summer ales.

Pours nicely, darker than planned. The brew is contracted from Unibroue, so it has to be good. And this one is just that, good. Nothing spectacular like years past. But a nice, solid, once in a lifetime (since they change it each year) tasty brew. I wouldn't necessarily cellar any of it, but a nice brew to enjoy when you need a break from christmas or winter ales.

More User Reviews:
Photo of wrycon
3.82/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Heavily carbonated on the pour. Quite dark, almost black, but there's light on the edges. Looked more brown when poured. Nice finger of head that stays. Very tight lacing. Smells much lighter than its appearance. Some raisin, some mahogany, a little banana, some currant. Smells light some funk lingers underneath. Many flavors clash in the front - cinnamon, earthy malt, maybe plum, and then the clouds part and a robust sweetness holds court in the middle. Finishes with a spicy, nutmeggy (not a word) slide. There's considerable carbonation throughout, making it a very flavorful, but lighter brew. This is my first Trader Joe's Vintage Ale and I'm pleasantly surprised.

Like It? Yes.

Photo of Beaver13
2.48/5  rDev -34.7%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

750ml bottle, best before 07-06-2016. Pours brown with a pillowy light tan head that goes to a thin film that leaves a little lacing.

The aroma is sweet bready chocolate malts with some banana notes from the yeast and some perfumey floral notes. Some spices come out some as it warms (corriander, ginger?).

The flavor is similar - sweet sugary bready chocolate / caramel malts with earthy yeast and some banana. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with sharp spritzy carbonation.

Overall, an OK Belgian. Just didn't mesh well with me.

Photo of jondeelee
3.95/5  rDev +3.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Trader Joe’s 2011 Vintage Ale opens with a nose that makes immediately apparent the beer’s Unibroue brewing, containing that special funkiness that comes from Unibroue’s yeast, which lends the beer a part-Belgian, part-near-Flemish overtone, being ripe with bananas and cloves, but also sour notes, like fermented apple cider. Apart from the yeast aromas, which seem to take up the majority of the nose, the beer does feature thick molasses notes, crusty brown breads, and a few fruit esters, such as plum, fig, and white grape. Touches of grapefruit citrus rim the edges, as well as a peppery spice. As a whole, the nose is certainly intriguing, and comes across as very Christmasy in some ways, like alcoholic fruitcake. The strange spice, banana, and clove notes are perhaps a bit overpowering, making other aromas very difficult to locate, and do come across slightly more like fermented apple cider than is necessary, but the beer still manages to be strangely alluring.

On the tongue, the beer opens with a hit of bananas and cloves, followed immediately by an orange, berry, and spice mixture, the latter containing lemon, ginger, and white pepper. The spices are potent enough that they bite at the soft tissues. Some brown bread crust, raisin, and molasses notes add additional complexity, though the beer does come across somewhat like an alcoholic Dr. Pepper because of the spice and malt combo. The flavors last the entirety of the mouthful, and extend easily into the aftertaste, losing their potency very slowly. The 9% ABV becomes a little more apparent here, coming across as a part-bourbon, part-cognac alcoholic vapor that mixes nicely with the spices and fruits. Mouthfeel is medium, and carbonation is medium to medium-high, fizzing on the tongue.

Overall, this is good beer, and certainly lives up to Unibroue’s high brewing standards. The fruits and spices do come across as slightly overpowering here, but then I admit that’s a problem I have with most of Unibroue’s offerings. I also think the beer bears slightly too much resemblance to alcoholic fruitcake. But the flavors that are present have excellent strength and variance, and blend extremely well to create a taste sensation unlike almost anything else on the market.

Photo of MattyG85
4.3/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured from 750 ml bottle into a Duvel tulip glass. 2011 Vintage

Appearance: Pours a dark blackish brown with a little ruby red showing on the bottom of the glass. Big five finger tan head fizzles down to a thin layer. Lacing is moderate on the glass.

Smell: Lots of spicy Belgian yeast upfront with cloves and hints of banana and pepper. Also some hints of raisins and other dark fruits. Has a lingering aroma of cocoa powder giving a cola like smell to the spices. Also picking up some hints of coriander, lemon, and brown sugar. One of the most spice forward beers I've smelled.

Taste: Spicy like the nose suggests but not as much cola in the taste. Big taste of Belgian yeast throughout with some clove. Hints of banana and nutmeg with dark fruit raisins and plum. Some notes of cocoa powder that blend in well with the yeast. Also some light hints of lemon, coriander, brown sugar, and dark malts giving a little hint of chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Body on the lighter side of medium and carbonation is medium to high. Finishes somewhat sweet. Alcohol heat is nowhere to be found which is a bit surprising considering the body isn't heavy. Very smooth.

Overall: A very nice and interesting take on a dark Belgian ale. The spices blend very well in the taste and this is pretty easy to drink.

Photo of chinchill
3.75/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

750 ml cork & wire bottle. "Best before" July 2016 date on bottle.
"Unibroue" stamped on the cork and cap ... a sufficient reason for me to buy this annually. A crescent wrench worked nicely to unseal and help remove the firmly seated cork.

Pours opaque, dark ruby-dark brown with a moderate size, foamy cappuccino-colored head that has excellent retention and leaves decent lacing.

I note that I can repeat a portion of my review of the 2010 version: "The aroma and the flavor both clearly indicate that this is a spiced ale. The exact combination of spices is unclear, but nutmeg and allspice seem most obvious, with hints of clove, ginger and cinnamon. ... the beer is a bit over-spiced [nutmeg or similar] for my taste. ... some raisin, prune and other dark fruit notes are evident."

The complex aroma correctly suggests that the the beer is lightly sweet. High ABV is decently hidden in both taste and smell.

M: smooth; very good, medium carbonation; high ABV mostly hidden excepting some warming and a light tongue bite.

O: A fine winter brew, with plenty of spicy complexity to enjoy in both the flavor and lingering aftertaste, and at a good price for a 750ml Unibroue.

Photo of tastybeer
3.57/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Deep, dark, murky brown in color with large foamy beige head. I almost thought it was black initially. Not much lace sticks around once the head fades to a thin layer, though a nice looking beer none-the-less. Aroma matches color in darkness. Fruits like figs, prunes, purple grapes, raisins, and apples, wallowing in sweet chewy malt. A little licorice, some apparent alcohol, and spiciness throughout. Spices are all over...maybe some fresh ginger, perhaps cardamon, possibly coriander? The alcohol is more apparent in the flavor, though not a deterrent. Seems slightly whisky-like. Plenty of dark fruit tastes as in the smell, but a bit sweeter than I expected. Not quite to the level of cloying. There's some balancing tartness through the finish. Body is full and texture is syrup-like. Feels like a heavy beer which in this case seems neither negative or positive. Given the sticky denseness of this I am drinking this down at a faster than expected speed. Overall a pretty interesting beer. Not mind blowing but pretty decent.

Photo of augustgarage
3.65/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a caged-and-corked 750mL bottle into my Unibroue tulip.

Nearly opaque body is a mix of bistre, bole, and cordovan capped by a fist of wheat colored foam. Creamy, sticky merengue-like lacing. Superior retention.

Yeast and alcohol feature prominently in the aroma suggesting sourdough starter, grapes, and a wave of peppery phenols as well. Wintery and straight-forward.

Mead-like palate entry with hints of tart apple and pear. Pleasing yeast notes tie the flavor profile together. Finishes with a touch of spice and stewed fruit. Fairly sweet but never cloying.

Effervescent, soft, and medium-bodied. Just a touch hot maybe...

This remains a wonderful value - lacks some complexity for an ale you might consider cellaring - but it's worth picking up a few bottles for the price alone.

Photo of brewerburgundy
3.29/5  rDev -13.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

25.4oz bottle, Duvel tulip, 2011 vintage.

Enormous head, pinkish light brown, widely spaced bubbles, billowing. This year's Vintage Ale is darker than I recall the last two years, more resistant to light, with more red.

Gimme that old distinctive Unibroue yeast. This super phenolic strain is spicy and funky in a raw herbal way, not like Brett at all, but just a very foreign smell. It's totally dominant, root beer is the only other aroma.

No surprise, the yeast is the dominant flavor too. Sweet malts, root beer, sarsaparilla, cranberries, and candi sugar skulk. I'm just not a huge fan of Unibroue's house strain that they use for their darker beers. Things kind of end up like overripe bananas.

Thin for the size and lack of outrageous alcohol, I find the mouthfeel of this beer really quite dull. The super carbonation that made that enormous head had fled.

Maybe I've tightened up my reviewing closer to a C average since last Christmas, but this years really isn't so much to my liking. It's one-dimensional.

Photo of hreb
4.2/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale. Brewed by unibrou, best before 07-06-2016 (no waiting for me though). Even before pouring into my Chimay chalice there's the distinct grapy/yeasty aroma of champagne from this similarly topped 750mL bottle. Beer itself is dark brown with a thick chestnut head.

Flavor is slightly sweet with nutty malts, a little bit of funk from the lees, and tasty hoppage. Spice flavors are perhaps cinnamon and clove and play well with the sweetness of the beer.

I'm definitely enjoying this more than earlier years' Vintage Ales. The balance is great; the flavors are fresh; and there's enough complexity to keep it interesting. Aging might do it well, but I'm very pleased with my choice even today.

Photo of ElGordo
4.12/5  rDev +8.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from the 750ml caged and corked bottle into a Maudite snifter. Body is a deep brown color topped by a small amount of creamy tan head that has some decent staying power but doesn't leave any lacing. Nice aroma of dark, sweet malt, some holiday spices, dark fruit, candi sugar, and the tangy notes of the Unibroue house yeast.
Palate is sweet and complex. Lots of dark fruit (raisin, prune, blackberry), a touch of roasted malt, and a little bit of candi sugar are the primary flavors up front. Notes of clove and cinnamon, bready yeast, and a faint touch of hoppy bitterness. Finish is a bit warming from the significant booze content. Body is rich and creamy, a good vehicle for the assertive and complex flavors. I've got a few years of this saved up in the cellar, I need to try doing a vertical tasting sometime soon.

Photo of zaphodchak
3.91/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Massive, well retaining offwhite head and a dark brown body.

Nose full of Unibroue yeast, slightly funky for being a current vintage.

Judging by the description on the bottle (which is the same as the 2010) and the taste, it is in fact the same beer. My guess is that it's Trois Pistoles (or something very similar). Raisin, ample coriander, a bit of currant and plum round out the fruit profile-- still plenty of yeast. Overall faintly tart. The coriander may be slightly too much, but I'm splitting hairs; Unibroue doesn't make bad beer.

Full and rich, bottle conditioned and pretty bright.

I was hoping for something different from last years, but now at least I have enough to keep for a while. Maybe I'll do a vertical in 2012.

Photo of lawlerj
4.15/5  rDev +9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from the 750 ml bottle into a tulip glass.

A - pours a dark black/mahogany with a tan head. Looks like Coke and/or root beer. Big tan head that fades, leaving a touch of foam on the top. Not much in the way of lacing. Can't really tell about the carbonation.

S - dark fruit, licorice, a touch of alcohol. Some belgian yeast and malt in the mix as well.

T - the taste follows the nose. Dark fruit and cherries up front with a bit of tartness, and then it opens up into the yeast. Some chocolatey flavors/cocoa hints in the mix. Alcohol is present but not overwhelming or unpleasant. There's a lot going on, and I can't quite pin it all down. But I like it.

M - very well carbonated and medium bodied. The carbonation gives a bit of prickliness to the beer.

O - overall, a steal. A very solid beer and it dirt cheap price. I have another bottle that I'm saving for next year around Thanksgiving - we'll see how it tastes after a year.

Photo of IKR
3.83/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Very dark Brown with a large beige head.

Smell: Spices and bready yeast notes.

Taste: The spices are upfront along with some faint roast notes. I also pick up some slight fruity notes. Finishes fairly dry with some alcohol in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body with a fairly high level of carbonation.

Overall: Good beer for the price.

Photo of OldIronLungs
3.58/5  rDev -5.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Poured into a stemmed tulip a straight cola color with a finger of light tan head that falls to a film and sticks and laces thickly.

The nose is boozy phenols, light berries, plenty of Belgian yeast spice with notes of cinnamon and clove.

Prickly full carbonation (over-carbonated, perhaps) and a thin body uncovers some grainy, lightly spicy malt and some berry tones. Alcohol present but not overwhelming by any means - still a touch numbing on the palate. More of a dry finish. Not terribly complex, but a very reasonable Belgian strong dark.

It's still a Unibroue-contracted beer. It's $4.99 for a 750mL. It warms up well, though I can't say it's really worth cellaring. Wait it's $4.99 a bottle. Cellar away. 2009 was the first year I had it and it hasn't been replicated since.

Photo of Sharkophile
4/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Trader Joes can't go wrong with having Unibroue brew their winter seasonal. Had this on several occasions this winter. Cheers!

A: Poured into a pilsner glass. Pours almost pitch black, with a tan head that sticks.

S: Smells very spicy, with a malty sweetness and alcohol there as well.

T: Brown sugar and slight fruitiness with a lot of spices, maybe ginger and coriander? Alcohol is well hidden and comes in for the dry finish.

M: Medium body with a lot of prickly carbonation.

O: Hardly any complaints. Tasty, cheap and great with food.

Photo of bluejacket74
4.01/5  rDev +5.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

750 ml caged and corked bottle, best before 07-06-2016. Had this bottle a couple years, hope it's good now! Served in a Dogfish Head signature glass, the beer pours dark brown with an inch light tan head that sticked around for a while. There's also a decent amount of lacing. Aroma is nice, the brew smells like dark fruit (plums, raisins), cloves, peppery spice, and some molasses. It tastes like dark fruit (plums, raisins), peppery spice, cloves, dark bread, cola, molasses and brown sugar. Mouthfeel/body is medium/full, it's a bit coating and creamy with a good amount of carbonation. I liked this brew, it's sweet, spicy and enjoyable to drink.

Photo of Phyl21ca
4/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle: Poured a deep burgundy color ale with a huge light brown foamy head with good retention and some good lacing. Aroma consists of caramelized Belgian malt with some coriander and the famous Unibroue yeast ester. Taste is also a well balanced mix of caramelized Belgian style malt with some coriander and some light peppery notes with the famous Unibroue yeast ester. Body is full with good carbonation and no apparent alcohol. Doesn’t stray away from the brewer standards which is a good thing knowing how he masters the style.

Photo of pBRale
3.8/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: A very dark brown pour with a tan head that settles quickly and leaves a few isolated spots of lacing behind. The head retention is impressive and is maintained throughout the entire beer (about 50 minutes for me).

Smell: Dark fruits, banana bread, and brown sugar combine with a smoked oak aroma and a hint of alcohol to create a very nice woody, bready, and slightly fruity/sweet smelling beer.

Taste: There is a rich, oaky taste up front, along with a rich breadiness. There are also some subtle dark fruit tastes that combine in there as well to form a flavor that is reminiscent of spiced banana bread. The aftertaste is woody.

Mouthfeel: This was surprisingly light in body considering style and abv, and it had medium levels of carbonation that led to a crisp, wet finish.

Overall: A very solid beer and a bargain for the price ($4.99). I really like the combo of fruits and smokey wood in this beer. It is nice treat for Unibroue to brew this for Trader Joe's, and I look forward to the future vintages as well.

Photo of vandemonian
3.46/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale is ok. It's pretty mild but there are some off flavours too.

A: Black colour and a 25 mm head that lasts really well. 4.5

S: Malty and some apple clove flavour. 3.5

T: Malty with dark fruit flavour. It's a very mild flavour with something off in the finish. 3

M: Super foamy. 4.5

O: 3.5

Photo of peoplewithhands
3.49/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a 750 mL bottle into a snifter glass

Appearance: Poured almost black with very slight hints of redness on the edges. Poured with large 2 inch tan head that turns into a half inch that stays for the entire drink lacing throughout consumption.

Smell: sweet smelling, yeasty, a little tart and fruity.

Taste: very sweet with lots of malt flavor, some roastiness. Alcohol is hidden, but the finishing taste is like strong sour tart fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium feel, creamy and smooth. carbonation is there, but not overbearing.

Overall: very sweet malty ale with a sour finish. 9 abv. is well hidden. Good sipping ale, but maybe a little too malty for my tastes. It could benefit from some hoppiness or other spiciness to offset the sweet malt.

Photo of yamar68
3.98/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

The most stubborn cork I have ever encountered. After struggling with my hands, then a plain corkscrew, and finally a wine opener, I sliced the print of my right thumb clean off. Lots of blood... we're off to a great start.

Very dark stuff. Muddy brown without much clarity to speak of. A swelling khaki head fills the glass and then some. Lacing is loose but consistent.

Intriguing... loads of soft pale fruits, sour yeast, some cola aromas, smooth and sweet, approachable, tame.

Fresh grape, more cola presence, frothy carbonation makes for an exciting presentation of flavors, sweet grain, it finishes pretty damn clean and rather wet. I can totally dig this.

That said - my thumb is now wrapped in gauze and electric tape... it's stinging pretty good, luckily I've already had a few but this is going to be a treat to wake up to.

Before you buy this, get some good gloves. Maybe chainmail.

Photo of wedge
3.59/5  rDev -5.5%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Slight gusher. Pours damn near black in color. Opaque with a tall, rocky beige head that quickly fades to a wispy covering, then nothing. Deep fruit, spice, and Belgian yeast in the aroma. Apple, banana, and a touch of licorice. Big, creamy, spicy flavor...a large smack of Unibroue yeast and some brighter spices like coriander and clove. Sweet raisin and fig with perhaps some ginger and citrus, though it's faint. Medium-plus body with some lively, but not over the top carbonation. Pretty good stuff and an interesting move with the spices...

Photo of LiquidAmber
4/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into an Ommegang flute. Pours a very dark red brown amber. Two finger light brown head dissipates quickly to a thin film and heavy ring around the glass that has good retention. Nice lacing. Aroma of dark fruit, Belgian yeast and spicing, light citrus. Great flavor of dark, light and dried fruit, assertive but well integrated spicing with cinnamon and clove dominant. Finishes somewhat dry with a sharp kick from the spices, hops and active carbonation. Medium bodied with slight creaminess supplemented by spicy carbonation. Not quite as intense as the Unibroue main line up, but very pleasant and enjoyable to drink. An incredible bargain for a decent Belgian strong dark at the price.

Photo of mikesgroove
4.17/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

very dark, almost a hazelnut color of brown, with a slightly reddish tint to it. Very hazy and cloudy and with a good amount of sediment running through it. A good two inch plus of head

alcohol presence here, but not in an overpowering or derogatory way, more of a subtle, just letting you know it was there. Lots of dark spices here. I could pick up even some dark fruits, plums and maybe even a bit of grape very nice warming feeling coming over as I took the first sip. Lots of mellowed yeast here. Some apples and plums, maybe a fig mixed in seemed to bring out the lighter notes. Meanwhile, underneath that was a deep caramel like flavor that blended in with a earthy or bready like back. Very complex and yet remarkably smooth.

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Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale from Trader Joe's Brewing Company
86 out of 100 based on 312 ratings.