Many a microbrew drinker has been turned onto the world of craft beer via cheap six-packs at Trader Joe’s, where brands like FULL SAIL and PYRAMID have been going for $4.99 or $5.99 for years now. Recently – well last night in fact – I had the opportunity to drink 2 of Trader Joe’s “house” beers, which are beers made for the retailer by other companies. Sometimes these contract brews are simply old wine in new bottles, i.e. popular craft beer favorites with a new label slapped on them; in other cases they are entirely new formulations.
Late last year I saw on the Beer Advocate message boards that TRADER JOE’S VINTAGE ALE 2006 was being blown out at fire sale prices to make room for the ’07 version. Why was this news? Because it was a 9% ABV dark Belgian ale made by UNIBROUE, that’s why – and everyone was saying that it was great, even when aged. You know what? They were dead right. VINTAGE ALE 2006 is a “dark ale on lees”, whatever that is – it has the unique redolence of a Belgian dubbel, with deep, rich tastes of pomegranate, plums and other dark fruits – without being too “fruity” at all. It was fairly full-bodied, without the stickiness that high-ABV beers like this often have. In short, it was another homer by UNIBROUE, who of course also make the 2007 VINTAGE ALE as well. 8.5/10.
At the other extreme was JUMPING COW AMBER ALE, a thin-bodied and fairly lifeless dark red ale. It was nearly opaque and went down so easy I could’ve been drinking a nice beer-flavored water, though of course it was better than that implies – just nothing I’d ever grab again. I’m not connected to the internet as I type this, so I can’t do any research on who contract brews this thing. Maybe you know? (no, wait a minute, here it is - Steinhaus Brewing in Paso Robles, CA - must be a front operation). 5/10.