Beer: He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16 Brewery: Shmaltz Brewing Co. Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 16 percent
Hanukkah might be over, but sometimes eight crazy nights just aren't enough. For those looking to squeeze in a few extra or get a buzz that'll last as long as the original Hannukkah candles, there's no better beer this season than Jewbelation Sweet 16.
In 2004, Shmaltz brewed its first iteration of a beer that would celebrate the anniversary of He'brew, the brewery's Jewish-focused (and kosher!) arm. It was dubbed Miraculous Jewbelation and - since it was the brewery's eighth anniversary - was brewed with eight different malts as well as eight different hop varietals, and clocked in at eight percent ABV. The next year it was nine percent and was made with nine malts and hops; the next ten, ten and ten. Impressively, the brewers kept up the standard all the way to this year, the sweet sixteen anniversary.
As with a girl celebrating her sixteenth birthday, Jewbelation 16 is a complex, loud, brash, befuddling beverage. The beer pours from the bottle a clear dark brown the color of coffee that coalesces in the glass to obscurant ebony. The color of oak, the head stands about half a finger tall but doesn't last long, bubbling away within a minute to leave behind a tiny ring along with some tiny snaking trails of lace, which is surprising given this thing's monster ABV.
The aroma on every Jewbelation seems to lean a different direction, and 16 is no different. This one is toffee-heavy, with notes of cocoa powder and bittersweet dark chocolate mingling with grape juice, sweet plums and perhaps some molasses. There's a nice toasty bread character as well, which I pick up along with a noticeable alcoholic burn that reminds of brandy or high-proof rum. Leafy hops are more apparent than they have been in previous years.
Powerful stuff, this. The flavor is fairly complex - as it should be when incorporating 16 malts and hops. A discerning palate will pick out chocolate milk, cola, molasses, brown sugar, toffee, vodka and burnt marshmallows. A discernible and enjoyable figgy, dark cherry sweetness dances on the palate throughout, and the bitter burnt character of heavily roasted black malt lingers long after the finish. Moderate carbonation prickles the tongue amidst a medium body that's just a shade more watery than I'd like. The alcohol, unavoidable, smolders against the tongue. This is pretty hot stuff. Still, it's nicely soft and feels good as it moves around.
I enjoyed this one more and more as I worked my way through the bottle, and not just because the 32-proof booze was working its magic. Jewbelation 16 is a tasty juggernaut of a brew. One wonders how long Shmaltz can keep making these things with the requisite number of ingredients and ABV. One hopes it's forever. Happy sweet 16, Shmaltz. L'chaim!
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.