OK, OK, so I missed VE Day (May 8th), D-Day (June 6th), Memorial Day, and I don't feel like waiting until VJ Day (Aug 15th) to review this beer. Heck, I've waited long enough! The original release date of the collaboration between Ninkasi and 21A was back in November of 2011. The can, on par for 21A, has some great art on it that mimics the famous photo of FDR, Churchill, & Stalin at the Yalta Conference. The history nerd in me must note that the Yalta Conference occurred in February of 1945, about 3 months before the Allies did "Win the War." Tiny details aside, I'm ready to taste and heed the immortal words of Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower when he said, "You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months." OK, so maybe that's not what he had in mind. Let's pour!
When they say that this is an ale brewed with dates, brother they ain't kiddin'! Dark fruit aromas abound with dates and raisins practically burping up and out of the can. This pairs nicely with a dark molasses sweetness and makes for a very rich bouquet of malts. The dark fruit aromas lend themselves very well to an almost vinous/boozy aroma. Oh, and all that is when the beer is still cold. Warming adds toffee notes to the molasses and a woody/earthy hop note. I must say I'm surprised to have any hop aromas at all after the can has sat for as long as it has.
A tan head the color of aged parchment caps provides a modestly sized cap for the dimly lit beer that idley loafs in my glass. Sitting there it shows shades of maroon and stained cherry wood. Lifted to the light the beer tosses aside the "wood" and puts an exclamation point on the "cherries!" Vibrant reds and glowing magentas fill almost the entire glass, save for a iced-tea colored tinge at the very surface.
I kept taking sips and waiting for the beginning of the beer to show me something, but alas, it never really does outside of some neutral, body-giving malts. Small sips show a lot more of the neutral malts and, of course, plenty of the added dates. Larger mouthfuls reveal a much more complicated beer of dark roasts, dates, a very nicely balancing bitter, an undercurrent of dry, biscuity malt, and a subdued molasses. The bitter seems to seek out the rearmost sides of the tongue and make sure they not left out. The finish is a bit boozy and offers and additional bitter punch to the omnipresent dark fruits as they descend. The spicy hops immediately become present in the mouth after the beer has gone. Lots of black pepper and dry tongue tingling goodness!
All the neutral malts start things with out a medium-full body, but eventually morph into heavy, creamy texture. As it sits heavier in the mouth, things begin to turn peppery and tingle the tongue. That's three unique mouthfeels during the course of one beer and I approve. The 8.5% ABV is barely noted in the finish due to the prominent spicy hops, but does still make its presence known. You'd think a beer involving added dark fruits would not end dry nor bitter! A pleasant and contrasting surprise.
Overall Impression 8/10
I certainly did not expect where this beer was going based on my early sniffs! Things were dates, raisins, vinous, and malty, leading me to believe I'd be receiving a very dark, sweet beer. This was not to be the case. The hops really stepped things up to not only give this beer balance throughout its backbone, but by also taking the beer in a completely different direction and ending it in a spicy, dry, bitter fashion.
This beer turns the tides like the Battle of Stalingrad (I had to fit in a WWII reference somewhere)! Starts out with dark fruits, but finishes with a bitter, spicy note that repels the initial invaders. I like it. It has definitely turned into a sipper thanks to the closing flavors and a body that is pleasant to roll around the mouth. I haven't found any sources indicating that this beer has been brewed since 2011, but it would be a darn shame if this was the only time this was brewed. Who knows? Maybe they can make the recipe a bit more robust and release one helluva barleywine! Much like VE Day, they might just earn their own ticker tape parade.