New Glarus says:
“A bold rich smoky nose is created naturally with a blend of smoked malts from Bamberg, Germany and Chilton, Wisconsin as well as robust Wisconsin Rye. Special Ale yeast ferments this hazy deep amber brew in the bottle. This is a big smoked beer fermented with Turbinado sugar and appropriate for sipping slowly today.”
(Editors note: We took a chance in cellaring the New Glarus Unplugged Smoked Rye Ale. Feel free to read through from fresh to the most recent review but if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, to read more about New Glarus’ Unplugged Smoked Rye Ale fresh and after one year and two years in the cellar.)
Ryan: You may notice that we have categorized this as a “Cellared Beer Review” and tagged it as a “Cellar Review.” And if you didn’t notice, well, now you know. Normally I would protest cellaring a smoked beer because I’d expect the smokiness to simply fade off leaving much of nothing behind. But I thought, with the addition of the Ale yeast and the sugar used in the brew, it might be worth the experiment.
Poured fresh and in to a barleywine glass, the smoked rye ale appears water thin and a deep mahogany in color – but also nearly translucent.
The nose screams barbecue; smoke, bacon and charcoal – all are borderline overpowering. Trying to push past it, rather unsuccessfully, is a bit of Belgian candied sugar.
As for the flavors, they can best be described using just four words:
“smoke, sugar, warm, sweet”
The smokiness comes through first followed by a sweetness from the sugar that carries through to the rather dry finish. The 8.5% ABV makes it nice and warming, although not overly boozy. And, despite its thin appearance, this beer does have a bit of heft to it.
Allow this beer to warm a bit and you’ll find the smoke drifts off leaving a clean scent and a sweet beer with just traces of smoke in the finish.
While there wasn’t an overabundance of flavors the ones that were present were a tad overbearing, which is why I am glad we set a few bottles aside to see how this develops over the next few years. This could turn in to a total bust or a cellaring stroke of genius. I guess only time will tell.
Karl: I’ll start by saying this – I smoked cigarettes for a quite a long time, and quit about 4 years ago. Since that time, I can’t remember having anything as smoky as this beer. Not barbecue, not beef jerky, hell, this might even beat out my pipe.
Smoky, smoky, smoky, this beer is a campfire in a bottle, hearty and rich like a smooth cigar, it’s also simultaneously red-meat savory and I even swore I caught a tiny hint of some nice, aged sharp cheddar. No shit, cheddar. Search this site and see if you find any other references to cheese, period. It’s crazy. But it works.
Beyond the smoke flavor there’s a sparkly brightness behind the fire here, like a barrel of harvest ale left next to the smokehouse for a little while. Like nothing else (and it’s shocking how often we get to say that about New Glarus beers), this is definitely one to pleasantly puzzle your palate with some new things you might not have thought beer could do.
Ryan: This is one of the more confounding cellared beers we’ve sampled, which is saying a lot because we’ve had some funky cellared beers.
Fresh, this is a sweet and warming beer whose smoky aroma is more bark than bite. Give it a year and whoo boy.
That delicate sweetness that was present in a fresh pour of the smoked rye ale is long gone. It’s still there, sort of, but much tougher to find – buried below layer upon layer of wood chips, mesquite barbecue sauce, charcoal and burnt bacon.
The smokiness of this beer is borderline overpowering, which is exactly what I didn’t expect after one year in the cellar. I imagined, after a year to rest, the smoke would back off even more and the Belgian candied sugar would shine. Nope. Not even close.
The body is still a tad watery, but not in an unappealing way, and the alcohol is still well hidden.
Ryan: What I imagined and hoped would happen after one year in the cellar finally came to fruition after two years in the cool, dark recesses of my basement. The overpowering smokiness in the year one sampling has backed off quite a bit to reveal a warm and citrusy beer with underlying — and pleasant — hints of smoked meat.
The nose of this beer remains dominated by smoke: specifically charcoal and liquid smoke. The aroma actually reminded me of taking that first step into a meat market. You know what I’m talking about? As you open the doors you get with that unmistakable whiff of seasoned and smoked sausages. Sniff this beer and then go walk into Paulina Meat Market and tell me I’m wrong.
The overly smokey aroma didn’t carry over to the flavor profile of this beer. In fact, the smoked rye ale is far citrusy-er than I remember. Mandarin oranges, peaches and lemon zest greet the palate up front followed by the soft and sweet flavors of brown sugar and the slightest hint of smoke leading up to a dry finish punctuated by a slight alcohol burn.
This beer has matured well and has morphed into quite the balanced smoked beer after two years in the cellar. If you have any more of this lying around I suggest cracking into it now. It seems ripe for the drinking, and I’m not just saying that because we don’t have any bottles left in the cellar. I can’t imagine this getting much better.