“The last of a series, Batch 10,000 Ale looks back to our roots, symbolizing the end of the home-brewing season with a creative take on “cleaning out the brewing supplies closet”. After combing through the catalogs of many malt and hop suppliers, our brewers used over 100 different malts, grains, and other fermentables, and followed them up with a blend of 60 different hop varietals between the kettle additions and dry-hopping.”
Bell’s Batch 10,000
American Strong Ale, 9.2% ABV
(Editors note: we’ve stockpiled enough Bell’s Batch 10,000 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 fresh tasting to the most recent review. However, if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, and read more about Bell’s Batch 10,000 fresh, after one-and-a-half years, two years, three years, four years, five years and six years in the cellar.)
Ryan: When I read the commercial description of Batch 10,000 and the borderline ridiculous ingredient list used I thought about the opening scene in Act IV of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Hang with me a second on this. The play opens with an introduction to three witches who, in the fourth act, are huddled around a cauldron tossing in “toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog,” amongst other things. After each batch of ingredients are added they chant in unison:
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”
This is how I imagine Batch 10,000 came about. I picture Larry Bell and his brewers encircled around a brew kettle. The crew is surrounded by buckets upon buckets of ingredients; coffee malt, rye, Michigan hops and the other 150+ ingredients that went in to making this beer. After dumping in a series of malts and grains the crew chants:
“Double, double perle and fuggle; Fire burn, and wort bubble.
My two previous experiences with Bell’s specialty beers that were fresh from the bottle were less than stellar. Bell’s set out to “push boundaries” with last year’s Batch 9,000. And they most certainly did. Last year I wrote:
“I almost expected this beer to crawl out of the glass like a sludgy cup of strongly brewed coffee.”
It was hot and boozy and messy, which is why the majority of what I have is in the cellar. The second specialty beer I managed to get my hands on was Bell’s Eccentric Ale 2008. It was brewed with honey, maple syrup, juniper berry and elderflower. And it was so sweet that I could not finish a bottle on my own and had to employ Andrew’s help. So I fully anticipated Batch 10,000 to be the same; a dark, angry boozy, sweet, syrupy mess that would need at least a year or two in the cellar before it would be palatable. I could not have been more wrong.
Batch 10,000 poured charcoal black in color and, despite a pretty aggressive dumping in to the glass, produced only a thin tan head that quickly faded and left only scant lacing behind. Get your nose in there and you’ll catch whiffs of molasses, black licorice, tobacco, soy sauce and salty meat. The first sip reveals a super-charged, high-octane beer that closely resembles a black barleywine. You’re first hit with floral hops followed by dried raisins, burnt coffee and a hint of smoke leading in to a citrus-y and dry finish. In fact, it reminded me of Founders Nemesis 2010 – which Karl appropriately dubbed “holyshitawesome.”
If you let this beer warm a bit in the glass you’ll find more roast-y characteristics will emerge along with flavors of chunky peanut butter. The hop profile in the finish gets a bit piney-er too. Also, be sure to keep a glass of water handy because this beer left me parched.
This is, sadly, the last of the “Batch” series from Bell’s. Previously these specialty beers would be released to commemorate hitting a bottling milestone. Typically that was every few years. But because of the increased demand for Bell’s beer and the brewery’s increased production, less than a year separated Batch 9,000 and Batch 10,000. That kind of takes the “specialness” away from the special release. The brewery said that 10,000 would be a good, “milestone to end the series at.” And I agree, but not because of the pleasantness of the number 10,000 – over say 11,000 or 14,000 – but because the “Batch” series is going out on top.
This drinks remarkably well fresh, so much so that I am hesitant to set any back in the cellar. But, for the good of science and our general curiosity we’ll throw some back to see how it ages. Be sure to check back as we chronicle the lifespan of Bell’s Batch 10,000.
Karl: Back when I was first learning to drink beer – not craft beer, not fancy beer, just beer – my friends and I stumbled across a beer called “Elephant.” I have no idea what it was doing stocked at my suburban Jewel store, nor do I know who bought it or why, we were just trying everything we could get (someone to buy for us) our hands on. When we cracked the Elephant, we all immediately agreed that it tasted like soap, that it was “more like Elephant shit” and so on.
Our late-teen palates weren’t terribly well-developed at that point, were they?
That leads us, strangely, to the cellared Batch 10,000 we cracked. My first thought after Ryan poured it out was, “Well…this smells like…soap.” Thankfully, the beer didn’t taste like elephant shit. Worry not about that.
But it didn’t taste like too much else, unfortunately. I wasn’t a huge fan of the 10,000 fresh, I appreciated it a little more after some time set aside, but now it’s dropping off again. The deep, deep purple/black/brown color was the most intriguing part of this beer. Beyond that it was just unpleasant bitterness with virtually no flavor up front. Watery and structureless, it surprises with a pop of grapefruit at the very end and then disappears almost completely.
The chemistry of this beer must be astounding. To go from such a huge mess of violent flavors at the beginning to drop off like this is chemically interesting, but for a drinker, it’s more of an example of how even large beers can age poorly. Let’s see what it’s like in another 6 months to a year – maybe it’ll disappear completely.
Ryan: This beer is rather perplexing after a year-and-a-half in the cellar. I mean, it was challenging fresh but now it’s gone rogue – or something.
The Batch 10,000 has essentially turned in to a soapy, smoky, hoppy mess.
The nose of this beer, if you can pick up anything at all, is all peat smoked malt and charcoal grill. The flavors are in-line with the aroma, unfortunately; loads of smoke, a touch of soap and some piney hops intertwined with a bit of grapefruit in the finish.
The carbonation seemed a little funny too.
Good thing we still have 8 bottles of this left (slight sarcasm) so we can try it in another six months and see what flavors will emerge from this science experiment gone funky.
Andrew: Hey, so remember when we did a tasting of Alpha Klaus and we generally didn’t have anything good to say about it? Yeah, this is pretty much the same thing and, in fact, the smokiness of this beer actually reminded me of the Alpha Klaus, which is not a compliment.
Back to the Batch 10,000, I still, to this day, have no idea what was going on with this beer to turn it into a smokey, malty, tobacco-y and soapy disaster of a beer. There really weren’t many redeeming qualities about this beer.
I wasn’t a fan of the 10,000 fresh, so I’m not surprised that I didn’t like it aged, and I think we can chalk this up to a failed experiment.
Karl: Man, this was a weird one.
Usually I am the one coming up with the messed up flavors, so I almost didn’t say anything when I took a big whiff off the nose of this one, but I did. And when I said “you guys are going to think I’m crazy, but I smell fireworks,” I expected looks of disbelief, but I got…agreement. Yes, sulfur and smoke come pouring off the nose, followed up by red grape flavors (almost like a Cabernet Sauvignon, which I think marks the first time those words have been written on this blog) and – no shit – some kerosene.
I don’t know what the hell the did with this beer: I used to be quite down on it, now I’m just completely befuddled.
Ryan: I am with Karl on this one. It was…odd.
He was spot on with the sulfur smell. I also picked up an extinguished campfire aroma, reminiscent of Cub Scouts, and a hint of grape jelly in the nose too.
The taste was very one note and it was an aggressive note at that; smokey. Very, very smokey. It was also ridiculously dry. Adding insult to injury is the carbonation, which is razor-sharp.
Further down in my notes I penned:
“I feel my tongue melting.”
Thankfully it is still intact.
Looking back at my notes I miss this beer at its freshest:
“The first sip reveals a super-charged, high-octane beer that closely resembles a black barleywine. You’re first hit with floral hops followed by dried raisins, burnt coffee and a hint of smoke leading in to a citrus-y and dry finish.”
Man, where did that beer go? Sure it was complex, but it was still enjoyable.
At two years in the cellar this beer is getting harsher. Will it continue down that path or will it mellow out at the three-year mark? I suppose only time will tell.
Andrew: Color me befuddled on this one as well because looking back at my notes, I was all over the place with this beer.
Yes, smokey, absolutely smokey, and heavy, HEAVY biscuit-y malts. But then? A citrus-y sour followed up by a hint of red grape sweetness and then it just drops off and finishes extremely dry, like, “I need glass of water” dry.
Wow. What in the world happened here? Well, either this beer has done what it’s going to do, which is unlikely, or it’s going to continue to change. Agree, Ryan, only time will tell.
Ryan: Now that this beer has cleared it’s terrible two’s (which seems to happen with a number of our cellaring experiments) it’s back to being drinkable. Better than just drinkable, actually. To be quite honest, it’s turning in to a really fun beer.
The smokiness that was so prevalent after two years in the cellar is still there but is far less aggressive, which opens the door for some rather unique flavors to emerge. Right off the bat, on the nose, the charcoal is still there as is the smell of a fireplace burning on a cold winters night — but there is also a biscuit-y aroma too; a buttered English muffin with grape jelly slathered atop.
On the palate there are all sorts of things happening, and all of them are good: a pleasant blend of spearmint and black licorice starts things off followed by molasses and alternating tea and cola-like flavors similar to sweet tea and Dr. Pepper, depending on the sip. Batch 10,000 finishes chocolatey, rich and creamy like a slice of chocolate mousse cake.
Allow this to warm — savor it — and you’ll catch some burnt toast in the finish along with cashews and a touch of red wine.
This beer has gone from a bit of a sloppy mess to an intriguing pull from the cellar. Everything that was so off-putting with this beer last year is toned down. Even the carbonation has backed off some. I suspect this beer can get better but if you are sitting on any, pull out a bottle or two. I’d be curious to see if you have the same experience as I have.
Ryan: What was an “intriguing cellar pull” last year has rounded out to be a smooth, even velvety beer — a far cry from what it was fresh and even at two years old.
A heavy-handed pour into a tulip glass produces little head and minimal carbonation. That aggressive tip of the bottle brings out initial aromas of molasses and cream soda. No smoke, no charcoal this time– just sweet.
The color is a bit different this time around too. Amidst the opaque darkness are light brown hues near the edge of the glass. I don’t think there is anything particularly off about this, although it does remind me of my teen years when I’d get a chocolate Coke from Steak n Shake. The chocolate flavored syrup that was pumped into the glass of Coke sat in clumps before it was stirred. And, yes, it was an acquired taste.
Poor teenage soda flavor choices aside, a sip of Bell’s Batch 10,000 reveals a much cleaner beer than previous years. Muddled mint leaves first grabbed my attention followed by bakers chocolate that dries out into an unsweetened tea finish. Allow the beer to warm some and you’ll encourage aromas of apple butter atop burnt toast to emerge and flavors of spearmint gum mid-sip and creamy espresso and milk chocolate in the finish.
The body sits heavy on the palate but isn’t syrupy and the alcohol is hardly noticeable.
What a four-year-old pour of Bell’s Batch 10,000 lacks in complexity, it makes up for in smoothness. The absence of those smokey aromas and a toned down mint-like flavor makes this a very easy sipper. There’s a chance this beer may be peaking, however I’m not quite ready to call it done yet.
Ryan: The signature white grape aroma and the smells of a warm cup of molasses sets the tone for this five-year old pour of the last of Bell’s batch series.
For some reason or another white grape has been a mainstay in just about every cellar pull from Bell’s. And the molasses seems to be Larry Bell’s stamp on most of his high ABV beers. I won’t complain about either, just an observation.
Surprisingly sharp carbonation follows the standard Bell’s aroma awakening the taste buds for heavy doses of dark chocolate with a Doublemint gum finish. Black licorice slips in about mid sip.
Let it warm a tad and the mint flavors will intensify, with minty chewing gum blending with a chocolate bar resembling a heaping bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Let it warm even more and that cool mint takes over from sip to swallow with a sweet key lime pie finish.
Patience really pays off with this one as I was just about to write it off as “meh” until it warmed enough to reveal the steady serving of mint and sweet finish.
Bell’s Batch 10,000 certainly hasn’t peaked yet. In fact, it’s still going strong and makes for a fun pull from the cellar if you’re still sitting on some.
Ryan: Six years. Six f’ing years. Do you know how much happens in six years? Weddings and kids and houses and job changes and moves — so many moves. A lot has happened in the six years since I first stumbled in to a case of Bell’s Batch 10,000 and a lot has happened with this beer too. So how has our longest cellaring experiment to date held up to six years in six different makeshift cellars?
Off the bat, Batch 10,000 gives off that signature white grape aroma that we note just about every time we sample this beer. There’s molasses too, a mainstay in our samplings of Batch 10,000. What’s different though is the body. The carbonation is sharp and tangy, not flat, which is what you’d expect from a six-year-old beer.
The carbonation serves as a pace car for the likes of chocolate bark, black licorice and spearmint gum. The finish is a sweet and refreshing spoonful of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Let this one warm a tad and the mint leap-frogs the chocolate to take center stage. It lingers through each sip and makes for a sweeter finish reminiscent of key lime pie yogurt.
Batch 10,000 shows no signs of letting up despite its age and is going down as one of our most rewarding cellaring experiments ever.