Experimental beers tend to run high on the alcohol content. I'm sure there's a reason for this; I just don't know why. The Short's Anniversary Ale is no different; at 11.7% abv, this beer is something that is to be savored, not slammed. And while it has its detractors, I consider this to be one of Short's most successful experimental ales.
The Anniversary Ale is (as the bottle tells you) “fermented with blood oranges and blood orange zest, dry hopped and spiced with green peppercorns.” It's difficult to pin down this beer, because to many purists, one probably shouldn't even consider this a beer at all. It certainly falls far short of the German purity laws. Wheat wines are very similar to barley wine, an old English strong ale packing a very high alcohol content (similar to wine), a thicker, sweeter taste, with a downplayed hops component. The difference between wheat and barley wine? Let me drop an egg of knowledge on you; wheat wines use wheat malt as a major component of their malt.
The base we have built here consists of a thick, high alcohol ale that has been made slightly more “fluffy” with the addition of wheat malt. All this exists in the Short's Anniversary Ale; it pours a deep copper-gold hue, with a thin, white head that stubbornly refuses to dissipate, even down to the last swallow. The color belies its strength, given that it looks much more like a simple fruit beer than anything else.
The smell is aggressive, almost obnoxious. It's warmer than the liquid itself, a characteristic borne from the almost 24 proof alcohol lurking beneath the otherwise innocent flavors. The overall characteristic in the nose is most certainly one of fermented oranges, with the blood orange mixing with the heady citrus hops and bolstered by that powerful alcohol base. The malt plays a minor – indeed, indistinguishable – role in the aroma, being upstaged completely by the sweet citrus from the blood orange.
The taste strikes boldly and without apology. Blood orange, dry hops, and the alcoholic twinge all hit the tongue at once. This is a very aggressive beer that has none of the coyness one might find in a well brewed IPA. The Anniversary Ale lays out all of its strengths at once, looks you in the eye and asks what you think. I've tasted beers that take this approach before, and typically I hate them for being too full of themselves to enjoy, but the Short's Anniversary Ale gets away with it because the smooth alcohol assuages much of the first punch before I could even exhale. In fact, the alcohol flavor is so pronounced that I'm very glad they dry hopped this beer and added the blood orange zest, otherwise this would be yet another slightly fruity barleywine, forgettable amongst its brethren. Exhaling reveals the peppercorn flavor; it adds just enough spice to the tail end to erase the alcohol feel and leave your mouth refreshed and ready for another sip. The beer may kick your ass, but it covers its tracks quite well.
My only complaint? It's tough to hinge a beer's balance on its alcohol and its citrus. I wanted some more malt flavor to peek through, even if such a request might not have been fit with the vision of this particular ale. That said, I may even need to take exception to my exception; with so many stubborn flavors in this beer, so many different ideas tied together into one organized expression despite a seeming cacophony of intent, perhaps the malt would have done nothing but added noise to an otherwise delicately balanced structure: the trombone in a string quartet.
I am constantly surprised by the depth and versatility one can find in the Michigan beer market – let alone the international beer market. From thick, sweet beers to sour belgian styles and refreshing farmhouse ales, beer has more personality and complexity than any other beverage I've experienced. Of the myriad different contributions to the family, Short's Anniversary Ale stands out as one of my favorites; this is a beer with all of the playfulness of an Oberon, all of the attitude of a Scotty Karate, and the delicate balance of a Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam. This is truly a fantastic addition to the Short's already wining stable.