Jubelale through the years

2019/11/12 § 2 Comments

I look forward to it every year.

Every year, come fall, Deschutes Brewery releases its perennially loved winter ale, Jubelale, and every year I go to the grocery store and buy it. Over and over and over again. Over the years the beer has changed slightly (as anything freshly conceived and created) but has always remained consistently and mysteriously unlike anything else that I’ve ever tried (and I have tried a lot of beer).

Some of my past tasting notes when drinking the beer have included “Malty, nutty, delicious”, “So good. So very good”, and “Raisins, dates, spice” — a series of observations that are surprisingly spare, though it should likely come as no surprise that one of my favorite beers also tends to be the beer I spend the least amount of energy on assessing and criticizing. Nonetheless, it is a uniquely original beer among the many out there. And if you’ve never tried it, you should give it a go.

One of my favorite reads from day to day is the blog of The Pour Fool (or Steve Body), a wonderfully audacious and wordy beer critic out of Seattle. His analysis of the beer in question is always sound (if not a bit optimistic sometimes) and his observations are always helpful. I have gleaned much from him over the years and tried countless bears because of his recommendation.

Which brings me to why I have mentioned him here. Body began drinking Jubelale long before myself, and his perspective on the wintery libation is contagious. He is himself a lifelong fan of the beer. Given this, I thought it might be interesting to lay out some of his thoughts on Jubelale.

In a column way back in 2003, dedicated to winter beers “with extra kick”, Body said of Jubelale:

“Deschute Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale (6.7 percent abv, $8) Chestnut red; ginger snaps; caramel with heavy chocolate coating; balanced bitterness; textured; generous finish; warm and comforting.”

Reeling forward to 2010:

Bittersweet chocolate-covered cherries, toasted bread, black currants, brown sugar, figs, hints of blackberry and dates, toffee, hazelnuts, and a whiff of molasses all ride atop a hallmark note of pine, branding this beer a product of its forested Central Oregon roots. It finishes with a truly satisfying smoothness and lingers on the palate, slowly decaying into faint coffee notes. At 6.7% alcohol, it’s not the most potent winter-warmer-style beer out there but it is the most perfectly balanced. At 60 IBUs, it’s hoppy, yes, but the hops profile is prominent, flattering, and complementary, instead of becoming the focal point of the beer.

In 2011 Body wrote that “Jubel [that’s Jubelale, not to be confused with the reserve series Jubel — which for some reason I’ve never tried] is traditionally about 7% alcohol..not that  you’d ever detect alcohol in this or any other Deschutes ale.” He goes on:

But it’s plenty muscular enough to fulfill the old British definition of these ales as “winter warmers”. Some winter seasonals do the warmth with a big load of alcohol; often over 8%. Jubelale does it partly with the 7% but also with suggestion. Like Samuel Smith’s benchmark “Winter Welcome”, Jubelale is so spicy mouth-filling and inviting – and so damnably drinkable – that it warms just from the flavor profile. The smell suggests warmth: pies in the oven, bread baking, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and a roomful of family and friends. How ever it gets done, the results are an English-style Strong Ale with a seductively deep, rich, red-brown color, emphatic aromatics that show its amazing hops to their best advantage, and a palate as broad as the Lower Columbia: dried cranberry, sorghum, stewed blackberry, burnt sugar, toffee, figs, cherries galore, woodsmoke, dates, pie crust, chinquapin, rhubarb, and this year’s surprise note…(drumroll)…graphite. If you put all this stuff in a blender and ate it with a spoon, well, it would taste kinda weird. But in this liquid form, the whole thing works and works like a Type-A bricklayer.

And in 2012, “Jubelale 2012 stands firmly in the best of its lineage. That’s a flowery way of saying that the 2012 Jubelale is flat-damned, freakin’ delicious.” Turning to its character:

In the glass, this is a dark, seductive, purple-tinged red-brown. It looks delectable and loses nothing when it hits the palate. Immediate, tongue-painting notes of dark caramel, blackberry, raspberry, brandied cherries, Cognac, roasted grains, mixed nuts, and a small rack full of baking  spices literally swamp the palate. It’s important to note, though, that this description, which could also work for a spice cake or some weird holiday cocktail, should not be taken as some sign that Jubel is sweet. It is, in fact, delightfully dry, crisp, and refreshing and is a wonderful pairing for your holiday ham and turkey or even a serving of New Orleans-style bread pudding or tiramisu.

And in 2014 at his new blog address:

Jubelale is a mouthful; a dark, mellow, malty ale that covers that bottom end flavor spectrum with black cherries, caramel, subtle baking spices, figs, grilled bread, roasted grains, a hint of molasses, and touch of baked apple. If that were the whole story, I’d still be writing this review quite contentedly, every year. But what Deschutes did, from the git-go, was inject this brilliantly drinkable bottle of Comfort Ale with an lurking edge of hoppy citrus and sweet herbs. Think of a piece of dark cherry spice cake that’s garnished with twists of candied orange peel and glazed with lemon curd. There is usually a pinch of pepper lingering in the background and, in 2014, that moves a bit to the fore, along with a really lovely shot of blood orange that meshes perfectly with the bracing bitterness. In the glass, Jubel is a deep, rich, red-brown; a color not unlike a glass of cola with liberal doses of chocolate syrup and Bing cherry juice blended in. DO NOT let all the verbiage about richness lead you to believe that Jubel – or most of the other Winter Warmers – are heavy, ponderous beers that leave you groaning; impossible companions to a big holiday meal. A major part of the charm of these beers is their relative lightness versus Stouts, Barleywines, and big Porters. You can have two or three in your long family afternoon/evening, and not feel like you need to be carted out with a forklift.

In 2015, Body perceived a hugely different and better approach to Jubelale:

This Jubelale IS different. Whether it’s the influence of the staff changes made at Deschutes in the wake of the departures of both Larry Sidor and Cam O’Connor, (which has now shaken out with the brilliant Veronica Vega in the brewmaster’s chair), those seasonal variations in malts and hops, a different water filter, voodoo incantations chanted around the tanks, or simply having just rewritten the recipe, this Jubelale shows a more complex and more prominent hops character, even more pronounced red berry/grain/spice traits to the malts, body for days, and a creaminess that shows up first as a mousse the texture of a milkshake and follows with a cool wash of pure silk on the tongue.

[…] This new Jubel opens with a gusher of rich, spicy malts, red berry notes, dried cranberry, black cherry, licorice, chicory, and an intimation of herb tea, and finishes with towering resins, white flowers, myriad citrus peels, and a savory rosemary note than ties it all together. It’s complex, masterful, and enormously satisfying. Bear in mind, this is all just me. For my tastes, this is THE textbook example of what a Winter Ale should be. My primary value, Balance, is perfectly expressed. The flavors are boldly stated – or, to borrow an oft-used Deschutes slogan, “Bravely Done” – and distinct. You’ll never have to hunt and rationalize and over-analyze to find out what’s in Jubelale. It’s all right up front, best foot forward.

Opining in 2016:

When Jubelale debuted, it was a beer far more about malts than hops. It was a deep, ruddy red-brown, warmly aromatic, mellow, a little viscous, and tasted like fruitcake and baking spices. That was in the early nineties(!), before the IPA became the end-all behemoth of American beer styles. So, over the years, Jubel evolved, slowly growing a more assertive, frontal hops presence. Its development roughly paralleled that of its spiritual cousin, Sierra Nevada “Celebration”, another winter seasonal that’s also grown horns and a deep, satisfying bitterness and is now, in fact, actually called “Fresh Hop IPA”. Jubelale is still called “A Festive Winter Ale”, which is the perfect description but is now as forthrightly hoppy as many basic IPAs or APAs.

[…] The malts woo with warmth and a satisfying creaminess and then the hops deliver an emphatic forehead smack of bitterness. If it seems a bit jarring, it is only in the sense that the hops come as such a bright, welcome contrast to all that initial richness. All the classic Jubelale elements are still in place: red berries, cherries, vanilla, sugar cookies, toast, sweet spices, Red Vines, and resiny depth, but the delivery is more assertive, more sure-footed, more…More.

In 2017, we find the focus on the hops in particular:

Jubel ’17 shows an even better integration of its hops than any of the past three to five “vintages”. Both ends of the flavor palate are broader and more vivid than the past few and the hops show more spice and florals than citrus or assertive resins. It’s a rounder and slightly fatter ale and goes down so deceptively easy that you can get yourself into a bit of peril, vis a vis driving or operating a backhoe or, yknow, like, talking, if you cave to the rather powerful impulse to consume the entire six-pack, something which will probably involve holding off your life partner with salad tongs or a cattle prod.

Oddly enough, I cannot find (or recall for that matter) any review of the beer in 2018. Seems that Body just skipped a year. Out of nowhere. Odd.

And this year, 2019, The Pour Fool — after describing a few of the ways that Jubelale has changed with the times — lays into yet another review of this complex and enigmatic beer:

Through all this, Jubelale has never wavered. It has changed, slowly and subtly and as attuned to the current tastes as an atomic clock.

Here’s what does not change: Jubelale shows rich, mellow, dark caramel, vanilla, black cherries, baking spices, roasted nuts, a fat tinge of citrus, a fine edge of toasted grains, malt, and subtle hints of cocoa and cafe au lait. The backbone of Jubelale has changed very little at all, retaining a fat, chewy texture and just adding in resins and herbs of some well-integrated hops and a molten bronze color in your glass that’s as sexy and alluring as Halle Berry. And this year, it weighs in at a strappin’ 65 IBUs, giving it as much hops oomph as many single IPAs…and yet it is stylistically nowhere near an IPA.

So I’m going to say it again: if you haven’t tried Jubelale before, take a chance and see what you think. Even if you don’t like it, I hope that after reading through all of the above, you’ll have a greater appreciation for just how much work has gone into this beer and how it has held its sway upon those who drink it.

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§ 2 Responses to Jubelale through the years

  • I made a dumb-ass decision to review 2018 only on my Facebook page. I will not be repeating that. There was, to be honest, a small and quickly resolved question about the 2018 that had made me hesitant to review it. It was fixed but, by that time, it wasn’t timely, anymore. Just allow me to say that the 2018 Jubelale, questions answered, was every millimeter up to the standard of every one before it.

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