BREWTAL TRUTH: Drink This Now!

One of the least brewtal beers we included in our Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers had to have been Shmaltz's He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16. Well, the beer itself was pretty insane—16 hop varieties, 16 types of malt and brewed to 16% ABV—but the pastel-colored label, complete with little dancing unicorns, didn't accurately represent the beer inside. Jewbelation is the brewery's anniversary beer, so every year, they go one notch bigger with the hops/malt/ABV. And since 2012 was their "Sweet 16," they packaged it accordingly. Their most recent anniversary brew (actually released in 2013, but still in tip-top shape) is, of course, all about 17, and it's that much bigger and gnarlier. The "reborn" part of the name refers to the fact that Shmaltz now has its own brewery. For its first 16 years it contracted another brewery to make its beer. This is called being a "phantom" or "gypsy" brewer now, but back in the day, being a contract craft brewer that relied on others to make your product was looked down on by some. Oh how times have changed. He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn 17 Strong Ale Shmaltz Clifton Park, NY 17% ABV

Just so you can see exactly what 17 different kinds of hops and 17 different kinds of malts look like, here's the complete list of both. HOPS: Warrior, Columbus, Apollo, Palisade, Golding, Tettnang, Ahtanum, Cascade, Czech Saaz, Centennial, Chinook, Santiam, Simcoe, Summit, Amarillo, Citra and Crystal. Typically a combination of a few hop varieties are used in most beers, some for bittering, some for aroma. Recently single-variety brews have become popular. This is kind of the opposite of both. It's basically a dogs breakfast of hops, and we can assure you that none particularly stand out.

On the MALTS side we have: 2-Row, Vienna, Munich, Spelt, Rye, Wheat, Einkorn, Emmer, Chocolate, Crystal Rye, Dark Crystal, Roasted Barley, Roasted Wheat, Flaked Oats, Caramunich 40, Carapilsner and Kiln Amber. Malt can add both flavor and color and because this brew is basically black there seems to be plenty of dark malts in it. We're guessing that this combination of malts was less about flavor-building and more about just being able to claim that there are 17 different kinds in there.

Now, as much as we may chide the (probably) unnecessarily long ingredient list, the beer itself, as it turn out, is quite something. Like the anniversary it's celebrating, however, you'll only want this about once a year. And why not now during the Jewish Passover? It is kosher, after all. But at 17% ABV it's also way stronger than wine.

Beers this big, in fact, are different beasts altogether. We can assure you, you won't want more than about a 10- to 12-ounce pour of this, so plan on sharing a bottle with someone. It's not because the beer is bad, it's just incredibly intense. The closest thing to compare Jewbelation to would be a Russian Imperial Stout. Visually it looks like one and it has a lot of the same aromatic characteristics: dark chocolate, cherry, booze, coconut, vanilla. Based on that, you can see where this might be heading taste-wise.

This is a mouthful all right. There aren't too many beers out there that have an alcohol sting to them, but this one certainly does in the long, lingering bitter finish. Not surprisingly, there is a hell of a lot of sweetness here. A mountain of malt must have gone into it. There are notes of chocolate, coffee, cherry, smoke, macerated raisins and burnt marshmallows (right at the finish). And, oh yeah, booze. Did we mention the booze? Yikes. It's like someone dropped a shot of Canadian whisky in our imperial stout.

Every craft beer drinker should know what a 16% or 17% ABV brew tastes like. These aren't easy to make well and they require a lot of effort and a shit-ton of ingredients. The results may not be to your taste, but they are something to behold. And keep this in mind if you do try one: drinking half of this 22 oz. bottle is the approximate equivalent to drinking three 5% ABV beers. Seriously, sip it slowly, enjoy its complexities, admire its strength and then wait another year for Jewbelation 18 to arrive so you can repeat the experience.

Adem Tepedelen's new craft beer book, Decibel Presents the Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing's Outer Limits, is now available in the Decibel online store.

There's nothin' creepier than 50-year-old men singing about lovin' up a 17 year old girl. Enjoy.

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