The whole point of an Anniversary is to accommodate retrospect, and given the chance, I’ll accept the accommodation.  History being a keen interest of mine, I’ll take any opportunity to learn a new subjects history, and often that opportunity is beer.  When I spied a bottle of St. Ambroise 20th Anniversary vintage Ale, a classic barley wine,  perfectly packaged in a cardboard canister, I bought it “sight unseen,” meaning, I had no idea what would make this Anniversary ale worthy of drinking.

Surprisingly, Canadian beer is slightly overlooked in the United States.  In fact, Labbatts or Molson aside, I would be willing to bet that the average beer drinker would find it easier to recall a brewery in Thailand or Chile easier than one from our Northern neighbor.  I’ll be honest, I had seen St. Ambroise Wheat Ale several times before but lacked motivation to pick it up.   Seeing their vintage anniversary ale so nicely packaged, and sporting an ABV of 9.8%, my motivation was found.

Motivation was found as well to do some research on the beer.  Besides possessing a fixation with all things human-past, it is disconcerting for me to drink a beer without knowing anything about the brewery that produced the beer.   A trip to the company website is always in order.

The St. Ambroise line, made by the McAuslan brewing company, takes its name from the locale of its brewery, St. Ambroise St. in Quebec.  Quebec is the only Canadian province that is predominantly French speaking, with French as it’s primary Language.  Catholic missionaries were a strong presence after discovery, thus the naming of the street “St. Ambroise (Ambrose).”

The founder, Steve McAuslan, left his position as senior administrator at Dawson College, under the firm conviction that Quebec needed and could handle a quality beer, and that after 25 years of experience as a home brewer he was the guy to bring it to them.  After more than a year of financing, building, recipe developing, and promotion, the brewery was opened in 1989.  Success and growth soon followed.  The company of five employees, now employs 40 and is active in the community.

On to the beer:

The Pour:

This beer pours a deep bronze color.  Sporting amazing clarity, when held up to the light, red and orange colors burst through.  Mine beer poured a thick head about 2 inches thick that clung to the glass after melting back into the liquid.

The Aroma:

Unique malt aromas greet the nose immediately that are heavily reminiscent of Trappist style beers.  The malt is biscuity and brimming with cheery and raisin notes, toasted biscuit, caramel, a little bit of chocolate, and I pick up a slight apricot aroma.  I didn’t pick up on an distinct hop characteristics, but the smell of alcohol is present.

The Taste:

The beer is relatively mild when it hits the tongue.  Unlike other beers with such strong aromas and higher Alcohol contents, there is not a confrontational burst of sugary sweetness.  But as this beer fills your mouth, a complex arrangement of sweet flavors unleash.  The burnt biscuit flavor and the caramel malts produce a toffee flavor.  Sweet cherries and candied plums make for one delicious mouthful.  The beer is exceptionally smooth.  Mine was amply carbonated, which helped to distract from the higher ABV.  While sweet, the beer has a temperate finish.  The tongue’s bitter sensors are near the back, which is why the finish of  beer is less sweet than when it enters the mouth.  This beer does not finish sweetly nor bitterly…just right.

Overall Thoughts:

This beer has led me to try several other St. Ambroise products, which I would not have done had the experience been bad.  I wish the beer had been a tad thicker in constancy, but overall, you don’t want to miss out on this one.

Nate’s Review:

Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★¼ 

Among other Barleywines: ★★★★½ 

Among other Canadian Beers: ★★★★¼