From the Beer Writer: I live in the land of IPAs, yet harbor deep affection for big, chewy, deep, malty beer styles. Typically, those creations can only be found in great abundance during the holidays, so when they hit the taps I make a concentrated effort to get a hold of them. A type of beer I find particularly appropriate this time of year is the English-style old ale. There may be no descriptor less sexy than “old ale,” but these semisweet, bready, fruity, high-gravity brews are things of beauty when done well. The latest to win me over is called Not Last Year’s Fruitcake. It’s a collaborative effort from two San Diego beer legends who know their styles inside and out, and as a result, are willing to take risks releasing obscurities that aren’t the darlings of the masses. They are Wild Barrel Brewing co-founder “Dr.” Bill Sysak and South Park Brewing owner Scot Blair. With Wild Barrel head brewer Bill Sobieski, the duo developed an old ale recipe that utilizes ingredients that are classic, modern and even trendy. A traditional malt bill and Belgian candi syrup produced a deep garnet wort for London III yeast (popular in the production of hazy IPAs) to consume along with sugars from dates and two types of raisins. The resulting beer drinks like a hybrid of an old ale and a Belgian-style quadrupel thanks to aggressive fruit-forwardness, a hallmark of Wild Barrel in its first year of operation. Not Last Year’s Fruitcake is available at both breweries’ tasting rooms and should make for a splendid end-of-year tipple.
From the Brewies: “To finish out 2018, we wanted to do a winter warmer for our collaboration with Scot Blair and his team from South Park Brewing. ‘Not’ Last Year’s Fruitcake Old Ale comes in at 9%. The brew team did a four-hour boil with a malt bill that was primarily Maris Otter, Golden Promise, and flaked oats. The hops used were minimal, as you might imagine if you are familiar with the Old Ale style, consisting of Hallertau, Magnum and Mt. Hood. They used the London Ale III yeast strain. Other ingredients used included Belgian candi syrup and coconut palm sugar. Black, seedless Thompson and golden raisins, along with a copious amount of local Medjool dates from Fresh Dates by Anderson, were brought by our friends from South Park. The color of the beer is a beautiful, rich mahogany with a long-lasting, toffee-colored head. The aroma is bursting with caramel and winter fruit—raisin, fig, date and plum with a hint of milk chocolate and a slight warming characteristic from the alcohol. The flavor backs up the aroma with more caramel, and winter fruit, and adds molasses, toffee and a hint of licorice with a luscious finishing mouthfeel of chocolate-covered caramel melting on your front palate. This beer will pair amazingly with prosciutto-wrapped baked pears, apricot marmalade crostini, French onion soup, roasted leg of Lamb, Colston Basset Stilton and chocolate.”—Bill Sysak, CEO & Co-founder, Wild Barrel Brewing
“We had been collaborating for several years with my good pal, Bill, making Dr. Bill’s Extra Special Barleywine, which was always an homage to J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. This year, we decided to go Olde Ale style and brew up at Wild Barrel with Bill Sobieski. Bill did a four-hour boil and we brought up some dates from a friend of mine, Mark Hermes, who hand-picks them out in Coachella Valley and Thompson and Golden raisins. It’s a new tradition and a new spin on this and I’m like super-stoked to be doing this right now.”—Scot Blair, Owner & Brewer, South Park Brewing