Colorado Brewed: Great Divide 17th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA

Each Wednesday in this column I post my insights about one of the thousands of beers brewed in the great state of Colorado. Feel free to shoot me an email with your suggestions of Colorado beers you’d like me to feature – Lee Williams at hoptopia@gmail.com – or leave your ideas in the comments.

From Czech pilsners to Belgian sours, for hundreds of years beer was born and perfected in wooden vessels of all sizes. It was exported in wooden barrels, served and enjoyed from wooden barrels.

Beer’s relationship with wood was far from inert. Wooden barrels imparted all manner of quirks and characteristics to whatever beer happened to hibernate within.

The arrival of affordable and adaptable metals was an effective death knell for beer’s long time marriage with wood. Soon wooden casks were replaced by easier to sanitize steely cold metal. More than a medium was lost in this seemingly innocent transition though, so too was all manner of additional complexity of flavor and aroma – all imparted by the beer’s interaction, some would argue, love affair with the wood.

I am not saying for an instant that beer deteriorated in quality with the arrival of mass produced stainless storage – the clinical material brought with it “cleaner” beer, this much we know.  Nevertheless, I believe something was lost.

Thankfully, with the blossoming of indie breweries around the world over the past few decades, the natural beauty of wood plus beer has been rediscovered en masse.

From new American breweries exclusively brewing saisons and sours destined for maturation in wood, to breweries’ and beer drinkers’ ongoing fascination with all styles of beer aged in every conceivable kind of spirit and wine barrel, wood, it seems, is fashionable again, and being truly appreciated for what it can bring to a beer.

Denver’s illustrious Great Divide brewery is a brewery that knows wood plus beer can yield something special. They’ve released whiskey barrel aged versions of several of their lauded beers to much applause.  To celebrate their 15th anniversary in 2009 Great Divide released an imperial strength version of its Denver Pale Ale aged on American and French oak. It did so again in 2010 for its 16th anniversary and once again this year for its 17th anniversary.

Great Divide 17th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA is a buttery vanilla melange of biting pine, alcohol heat and biscuit sweetness. The most surprising aspect of the beer is also the wood’s greatest contribution to the beer: its silky smoothness. Double IPAs are two a penny in 2011; some breweries produce 2, 3 or more different versions in a given year. Conversely, wood aged IPAs remain a decidedly rare breed – surprising considering the style was essentially born in the barrel during the height of the British empire.

As far as food pairings go, 17th Anniversary works as well, if not better, than non-wood IPAs with spicy Indian and Thai meat dishes, strong matured or salt heavy English cheeses, a full English breakfast or even sweet dairy based desserts.

THE GEEKY STATS:

  • Brewed in Colorado by:Great Divide
    2201 Arapahoe Street
    Denver, Colorado, 80205
  • Released:  April in 22oz bottle and on draft
  • Beer style:  Imperial India Pale Ale
  • ABV:  10.0%
  • IBU:  ?
  • Hops:  ?
  • Grains:  ?

Check back next Wednesday when I highlight another Colorado Brewed beer. Cheers.

About Lee Williams


Beer writer. Founder of Hoptopia. I write for various beer related publications, websites and festivals. Email - hoptopia@gmail.com