“Black, dense, and rich, this is a great ale for the cellar.”
Bell’s Batch 9,000
American Strong Ale, 12.5% ABV
(Editors note: we’ve stockpiled enough Bell’s Batch 9,000 to review it every six months to a year to see how it is developing, aging and changing. Feel free to read through from the six month old tasting to the most recent review. However, if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, and read more about Bell’s Batch 9,000 after six months, one year, two years, two-and-a-half years, three years and three-and-a-half years in the cellar.)
Ryan: The first tasting of this beer back in early February of 2010 revealed a hot, boozy, syrupy mess. It was a fantastic hot, boozy, syrupy mess – but still a mess. The 12.5% ABV was very apparent as was the molasses and brewers licorice used to brew this beast. I almost expected this beer to crawl out of the glass like a sludgy cup of strongly brewed coffee.
It did not.
This beer was built for the cellar, no doubt about that. That’s why we’ll be pulling one from the cool depths of my chest freezer every six months (roughly) to let you know how it’s developing.
At six months in the booze has backed off some and the flavors are starting to blend, but this beer is still in its infancy.
Fresh plums, black licorice, molasses and booze fill the nose after a clean pour into a 4 oz tasting glass. Take a sip and you get snippets of brown sugar, licorice, molasses and what can best be described as purple grapes or concord grape juice. Surprisingly the booze is far less pronounced in the taste as it is in the smell. In fact, the 12.5% isn’t even noticeable.
If you let this beer warm a bit, which i highly recommend doing, you’ll pick up almonds on the nose and a bit of nuttiness in the aftertaste.
This beer could very easily pass for a port or an after-dinner drink; very dark, very thick, and very complex.
So, to recap, same booze on the nose – less in the taste. The licorice and molasses are blending nicely and new flavors of purple grapes and almonds are starting to develop. Looking forward to trying this again in another six months.
Karl: For starters, I love that Bells decided to call this a “malt beverage.” In my days of pre-beer-dorkdom a “malt beverage” was only served in 40 oz bottles, or alternatively a Zima only to be tracked down on request of whatever 22-year-old girl one of us idiot Busch-swillers was trying to woo. Remember Zima? A refreshing malt beverage? Thems were the days. Ah, memories.
So, back to Bells – we’ve sampled the Batch 9k previously and didn’t think to take notes on it but I do have a vague recollection of a complex, hefty beer sticky with molasses and with an undercurrent of that brewer’s licorice mentioned on the label beneath. So what did about 6 months of rest do for one of these 12 oz bottles?
Out of the bottle I got the same scent of booze and plum that I remember coming off of it previously. The sharpness of the booze might have been a little bit more pronounced, but it quickly backed off and developed a certain woodsy characteristic. A few minutes later, I revisited the nose and discovered that some lightly toasted cocoa scent had emerged. This was worth opening just to experience the change of scent alone.
The 9k poured cola-colored with a certain purple tone to it, making it sort of maroonish. It was certainly lighter in body than I remember, having dropped back to a medium heft but not quite edging into wateriness. The molasses flavor had receded somewhat and allowed the sweetness of the licorice flavor to emerge, and there was a new herbal finish to this that lingered a while. I recently had an aperitif at the Publican (very lah-dee-dah, I know) which was a lot like Campari and bitters and reminded me a lot of the finish here. Beyond that, interestingly enough, it smelled like booze, it burned like booze as it settled in and yet it didn’t have that dramatic liquor burn on my palate.
Between the sweetness, the presence of that high ABV and the way the licorice responds to the other ingredients to make something approaching grape-like, one word emerged to describe this: It’s port. If you handed me this and told me it was a glass of port I’d probably believe you. And ask for seconds. I’m not sure the aging process had made too much of a change other than the slight lightening of the body as well as the emergence of the licorice and more sweetness. In another year, I think we’d see some significant changes.
Andrew: I’m going to assume that most of our loyal, dedicated readers (Hi, Mom!) know about the Bell’s Batch Series, so I’ll spare you the history. I will say, however, that I love the how different each of the batch beers are, from Imperial Stouts and Barleywines to a Witbier and the most recent Batch #9000 American Strong Ale.
After cellaring the 9,000 for six months we were presented with a very dark purple/brown beer that poured with no head at all. There was a lot going on in the nose, making it hard to pick up everything, but the molasses, booze and dark fruits were definitely the dominating scents.
The flavors matched up with the nose, extremely intense, complex flavors with notes of molasses, booze, dark fruit (cherries or plums?) and licorice. It was also very sweet, almost mouth puckering sweet. Oak and nutty flavors lingered in the aftertaste and left me feeling very dry-mouthed.
Karl: The last time we tried the 9k, I noted that it was very, very grape-y and fruity, to the point where if you told me it was a glass of port, I’d have believed you. WARNING: DANGEROUS SIMILE USAGE AHEAD: Like when Lone Starr went Plaid in Spaceballs, this beer has gone beyond beer, beyond port into…JAM.* Grapes, jam, jelly, sweetness and rum, if this beer was Buddhist it would have aged itself into a new state of consciousness. Dark, deeply purple and still just a little watery, this beer has gone straight through to bold, boozy, heavy, tough, hardcore grape and raisin sweetness. And tartness. And another dimension of dark fruits and goodness. With another year this beer could achieve Ludicrous Speed.*”Nobody gives Dark Helmet the raspberry!”
Andrew: One of the perks of being a lowly legislative staffer in Springfeld was attending the fundraisers and receptions that lobbying groups would put on during the week. One of those was sponsored by the group representing Illinois wineries. It gave us the chance to try out many of the wines made right here in Illinois. One of the wines I tried was made with concord grapes, and it was exactly what you would expect it to be – a boozy grape juice, just like if you had fermented a box of Juicy Juice or something. What does this have to do with the Batch 9,000? Everything.
It tasted just like that – a really sweet, fruity, boozy beer. Or was it molasses, or a base for BBQ sauce? Regardless of what it was I liked it, though I wonder if it’s teetering on the edge of being too sweet…guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Ryan: Yup, I definitely got the grape jam or jelly component too – both on the nose and on the palate. But it was a little less one note for me. I also picked up some caramelized sugar in the aroma of this beer and caught some black licorice and brown sugar flavors too.
The real excitement came when this beer warmed a bit and produced some very distinct barbecue sauce aromas, not too spicy mind you, but a nice , mild barbecue sauce. I also noted, and this is my Karl moment of the night, baked sweet potatoes.
Karl: The “Batch” session beers are built to last, and are probably some of the first beers that I even realized were in limited release. Up until my first encounters with Bells’ Batch X,000, all beers I ever really came across were year-round offerings, and I had never even really thought about the seasonality of beer or anything like that. THAT’s how far back these Batch series beers travel in my consciousness, and here again we come across the Batch 9,000 – one of the first beers we tried for this little site.
The last time we enjoyed this, the operative word for me was “port.” Hearty, fortified, grape and jam dessert wine flavors throughout, even (or especially) after a year in the bottle. After another year set aside, the word “port” still applies, but shrink the font size a little bit. Tiny port. Lesser port. Small port. That’s what this is now.
Still nice and dark in color, the 9k pours with no head and interestingly, no aroma. It still tastes of those grape and jam flavors, only less vibrant, and with a musty bitterness at the very back-end, like old baker’s chocolate. Then, it disappears. A wave of grapes and bitter, and then the flavor is gone, washed away. I think the high point for this beer was definitely a year in; if you’ve got any set aside, crack it now because I don’t anticipate this will have much left to offer in the future. (Still, I imagine we’ll be trying to find out in another year or so.)
Ryan: I beg to differ, Karl. I don’t think this beer has peaked quite yet. And while I did enjoy it more fresh, I still think the Batch 9k is drinking very well.
I did pick up a bit of nose on this beer; some hearty molasses, soy sauce and an overt sweetness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
But I will agree with you on the grape and jam flavors being a bit diminished. Although, in their absence I picked up a bit of brown sugar, molasses, dark chocolate and even some iced coffee on the finish.
What really struck me about this beer was the body. It was…perfect. The carbonation was sparkly and lively, but was balanced out by hefty mouthfeel.
I have two plans for the remaining bottles of this. (1) crack another one in 6 months to see what, if anything, has changed. (2) Use this a steak or brat marinade this summer.
Andrew: Looking back at some of my other tastings of the Batch 9,000, I found notes like, “ mouth puckering sweet” (6 mos. tasting) and “grape-y, lots of concord grapes” (1 year tasting). And while I wouldn’t come close to using these same descriptions on the 2 year tasting, I think I actually liked this one the most.
The 2 year tasting remained thick and molasses-y with lots of dark fruits and just a little dry, bitter dark chocolate on the finish. As both Ryan and Karl noted, the sweetness from the grapes had backed way off this beer, but that allowed for a different kind of sweet, a brown sugar, molasses or chocolate kind of sweet to really come to the forefront of this beer. Still a very port-like beer.
Karl: Two years, six months. That’s plenty of time for most beers to be laid aside, and yet I feel the 9K could stand up to much, much longer. This beer is still just as great as it was at day one, with developing complexity, distinctly robust flavors and a hearty but slightly slighter (if that even makes sense) body.
Just opening the bottle made us all happy. Hot damn, does this beer smell good. In the glass there are waves of taste cascading around: grape, molasses, licorice, chocolate, all bouncing off of each other, all clarified by time and beginning to stand apart in contrast to the hot melange of flavor this had at fresh. The body has lightened but still has some legs to stand on, making this slightly more easy-drinking and pleasant. The only negative is a slightly off whiff of funk on the aftertaste – but barely worth mentioning, given the continued strength of this beer.
If I may ask, Mr. Larry Bell, I know you stopped doing the batch beers a while ago, but maybe if/when you finally hit 18k, could we get this one again?
Ryan: My very first notes on this beer pretty much sum it up for me.
“Smells like happy.”
And it tasted like happy too.
Interestingly, as we savored this beer, I read back our last tasting notes highlighting the fact that Karl thought this beer had peaked. Andrew and I, on the other hand, thought it had more in store. And thankfully, for our fragile egos, we were right.
The nose was both intriguing and tantalizing with rich and robust aromas of molasses, brown sugar, black licorice and ginger. Or, just plain happy. Not to be outdone by the nose, the flavors on the palate really delivered, with an underlying smokiness that lingered throughout each sip seemingly intensifying the back strap molasses, dark chocolate, cherries and vanilla flavors.
The body was syrupy, coating and thick.
We have said it before and we’ll probably say it again (I’m about to right now) this is why we cellar beer. Sure, sometimes we get some duds like the recently reviewed Abt, but then we get gems like the Batch 9,000.
Andrew: When we last had the Batch 9,000 it had two years on it. At the time, I opined that, “think something special could still happen with this beer.” I was right. For once in my life I was right. Someone please mark it on the calendar.
God, I loved this beer. It was dense, complex, and excited and confused me, all at the same time. TONS of dark fruits, concord grapes, molasses and…caramel? It was still very port-y and got even more smokey.
The dry finish was exactly what I wanted on this beer and the slight booze burn was a welcomed surprise, too.
Karl: One of our longtime favorites and most consistently rewarding cellar experiments, after this long you have to ask yourself – does this beer still have it? The answer, on the whole, is yes – she’s still got it. A little less of “it,” but it’s still there.
Esters of bubble gum, red wine and sour grapes pop to the forefront, reminding us of all the other grape/wine flavors we’ve noticed in cellared Bell’s beers in the past. How does this happen? What ingredient, what magic of chemistry produces this? we don’t know, but if it something they’ve been going for on purpose, well, they’ve nailed it across the board.
Creamy yet sparkling, complex with a huge aroma and flavor, this still has everything it went into the kettle with – this beer is definitely and noticeably starting to decline, but it seems as though it’ll be quite gradual.
Ryan: I am hesitant to say this beer peaked at 2 1/2 years, but it just may have. It is still drinking amazingly well but, as Karl noted, it does appear to be on a bit of a decline.
The nose is still teeming with the likes of molasses, red grapes and grape jam. The body has grown more complex; black licorice, soy sauce, beef kabob and grape jelly spread on a buttered biscuit.
Let it warm and sweeter flavors begin to emerge, namely chocolate covered cherries, raisins, prunes and bacon wrapped dates.
There was something strangely salty with this beer causing me to write down, and I kid you not, black olives. The saltines didn’t seem out-of-place, but was undoubtedly unique.
You may wonder how I could rattle off all of these different flavors and still say this beer may be declining. Well, while there were certainly a lot of things happening in my glass the three-year-old old Batch 9,000 seemed to be lacking a certain oomph. It didn’t seem be as aggressive as past samplings. Although, that may wind up being a good thing.
I suppose the only way to find out is to crack one open in another six months.
Ryan: So, here we are, Bell’s Batch 9,000. It’s been three-and-a-half years in the cellar and that oomph lacking at three years hasn’t returned. There hasn’t been a sharp decline either as this beer still carries a great deal of complexity and character.
Ever-present on the nose is that signature grape jelly aroma that has hung with this beer from the start. The molasses is there too but beyond that the nose seems to be fading a tad. Take a sip, however, and I’m reminded just how complex this beer is. Sweet and warming molasses and maple syrup hit the palate first followed by a glob of grape jam. A subtle smokiness swirls before exiting to make way for some soy sauce or even a bit of teriyaki sauce.
The saltines I noted in the three-year review above is still there but not as distinguishable. Also missing were the easily defined chocolate and dark fruit flavors. However the body remains thick and syrupy with a cola-like finish.
This beer remains a favorite of the Batch series but may certainly be on a slow and subtle decline.