The Badass Tap: Independence Jasperilla
I'm always happy to put a local beer on the Badass tap, and I'm especially pleased to get this one because it's an unusual and ancient beer style. Independence Jasperilla (named after the brewery dog, Jasper) is an Old Ale.
Old Ales go back to the time when hops started to become a common ingredient of beer, around the middle ages. Before then, beer was flavoured with gruit - a concoction of herbs that varied from place to place and brewer to brewer. Gruit imparts flavour and bitterness but the beer would spoil quickly so it had to be drunk young. Hops have the added benefit of preservative and antiseptic properties allowing beer to be kept longer and to develop new flavours as it ages and matures. Brewers started using this technique to make beers with interesting new qualities, often unique to the alehouse where it was brewed, and even to individual barrels, depending on the organisms inhabiting each vessel. Hops may be antiseptic but they don't see off every microbial critter, some of which are actually beneficial to producing a complex and delicious brew. The most common of these is Brettanomyces, which gives beer funky, musty and 'barnyard' flavours. Some folks find that to be a fault while others specifically look for it, and it's a common quality in several Belgian beers. 'Brett' is currently one of the flavours du jour among craft brewers and beer geeks; you'll find it in a number of contemporary American beers such as Boulevard Saison Brett, Victory Wild Devil and Avery Dépuceleuse.
As the practice of keeping and ageing ale grew, the old, or ‘stock’, ale would often be blended with other beers, such as mild ale, to give them a little extra flavour and kick. Brewing was usually suspended during the warmer summer months, so any stock ale left over when it resumed with the onset of cooler weather was sold as Old Ale. The ale itself would originally have been brewed to contain extra malt sugars to give the yeast and bacteria plenty of food to work with, giving it not only a sweet character (depending on how heavily it was hopped), but making it especially alcoholic.
As brewing knowledge and experience progressed over the years, the need for blending younger beers with stock ale grew less important. Not only was brewing beer moving away from the individual alehouse to the commercial brewery, brewers were developing several new styles of beer - the styles we know and drink today. That didn't mean the end of Old Ale, however. Some breweries continued making beers and ales specifically for ageing and for their stock ale qualities, and these days we know them as, for instance, barley wine, winter warmers and (less commonly) Burton ales.
Old Ale still has its devotees though, and Jasperilla is just one example. Others (that we can get in Texas, at least) include Fuller's Vintage Ale and Gales Prize Old Ale, as well as Theakston's Old Peculier, no longer shipped here, unfortunately. The Brooklyn Brewery, some of whose beers we have on the menu here at Lamar, also makes one (Blunderbuss Old Ale) which I guess they haven't yet submitted to the TABC for label approval.
This particular batch of Jasperilla (the '09) has been oak-aged for 2½ months to give it extra notes of oak (obviously) and vanilla. We've had this keg in our beer store for several months, giving a little more age. It is, to be sure, a sweet-tasting beer, but the hops kick in halfway through and give a very nice bitter finish. It has the typical fruity, malty, caramel characteristics of an old ale, with hints of figs, raisins and grapes. When we tapped it and had the first tasting, one of the bartenders said "It smells like a doughnut!"
I love doughnuts and I love beer. To have them both in one package is almost enough to make this beer nerd shed a tear of happiness.
Jim Hughes, Head Beer Nerd, Alamo South Lamar
“If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink… I’d spend it on drink.” ~ Sir Henry Rawlinson