When stumbling upon what appeared to be a nondescript convenience store -- Stafford Convenience Store, corner of Stafford and Sunnycrest in Eastwood, Syracuse, NY -- I was surprised to see, for the first time, Series One of Southern Tier Cuvee.
Apparently, Southern Tier will be putting out three separate series of oak-aged beers. The first series, released in October, will be in French oak; the second series, released in February, will use American oak; the third series, available when the last of the snow will finally have melted in June, will likely be a combination of the two.
And spoiler alert, because the label gives away some of the beer's secrets:
ALE IMPRESSIONS: Light copper color, slight malt flavor with mild bitterness, dry finish with subtle hop aroma.But more importantly, what did I think? I broke out a tulip glass and my notebook and took a crack at it.
FRENCH OAK IMPRESSIONS: Qualities of toasted coconut, almond biscotti and toasted almonds with a taste of honeysuckle.
11.0% abv. • individually boxed, foil labeled 22 oz bottle
This beer is very attractive, worthy of its provocative French moniker. The color is honey and copper. Though the head starts puffy (possibly due to a suspect pour), it disappears pretty quickly. It's not a clear beer, but puts out a hazy glow like a lava lamp. The carbonation is infinitesimal.
When hoisting this unwieldy glass toward the nasal cavity, the first smell -- naturally -- is of oak. The oak masks a second wave of heavy Belgian ale spice. The caramel malts come through to add both another level of flavor and another level of balance. It smells woody, roasted and dry.
The taste opens up a veritable pandora's box of flavor, a menagerie of disparate flavors. I was able to taste: oak, vanilla accents, Belgian ale spices, raisin, strong alcohol, caramel, molasses, a nutty malt and coconut. (To be fair, I'm not sure I would have detected the coconut if I hadn't read it on the label first. Ah the power of suggestion.)
The label mentions that there is creme brulee in the flavor, but to me that comes out much more like vanilla, caramel and molasses, and not the strong sense of Southern Tier's recent Creme Brulee Milk Stout. The beer is creamy and fizzy, and leaves a nice little remnant on the tongue.
It's a beer that's actually greater than the sum of it's parts. As far as drinkability goes, it's superior. At 11% alcohol by volume, there wasn't a moment at which I was choking it down. In fact, I was surprised to find it was gone before I was finished writing everything down about it. Which meant I had to pour another glass. And fast.
According to the Southern Tier website, Series Two will feature a more roasted, possibly more bitter, flavor. It should be more oaky, but with "a creamy intensity." Series Three will ... ah who the hell knows. I'm just glad I got to try this one.