In 2005 Avery Brewing Co. introduced The Demons of Ale series—a yearly limited production release of three bold brews, each sporting a devilishly high alcohol content of 15-17 percent, giving it a suggested cellarability of over ten years. The three beers are released throughout the year—Samael’s Oak-Aged Ale in April, The Beast Grand Cru in August and Mephistopheles Stout in December.
Each run also varies just a little bit, with a range of ABV and even release date. Though the brewery says 15-17 percent, the ABV of Samael’s has ventured all the way down to 14.2 for this year’s release and though it’s usually released in April it seems this batch was ready a little early in March. In 2007, Avery tweaked the recipe for Samael’s Oak-Aged ale a bit, adding more roasted malts to balance out the profile, adding some bitterness to counter the sweetness of the beer.1
While the number ranges might not make a ton of sense, Avery does do us a favor and prints all this pertinent information on the bottle, making it easy to see at a glance what batch it’s from and that year’s specifics. They also had this blurb about who Samael is on the bottle:
Samael is the prince of demons, the angel of death, accuser and destroyer. Filled with enmity towards man, he planted the vine, the forbidden tree of paradise. Behold his venom and vengeance, both sweet and tempting, enticing you, his spellbound victim, within his wings.2
According to Avery’s website, Samael’s is brewed with Columbus and Sterling hops, two-row barley, Simpson Caramel 150, Victory, Munich and Special Roast malts and turbinado sugar. In addition, raw American and toasted American oak was used.
There are a few beers that actually elicit excitement from me as I crack them open, and The Demons of Ale beers are a few of them.3 As I pour the semi-transparent, orange-brown liquid into the glass, I can feel my anticipation in tasting this year’s batch. There is a slight disappointment about the quarter inch of head that dissipates to nothing almost immediately, though it’s not enough to put a damper on my experience. Bringing the glass to my face, I bury my nose in the rich oaky and malty aromas. There is a strong alcohol note as well, and while it doesn’t overwhelm, it is almost at the tipping point of doing so.
Taking the first sip, oaked malts and alcohol hit me right away, though as the taste develops caramel, vanilla and raisins coat my mouth with the delicious flavors. The mouthfeel is heavy and is only slightly lightened by the little bit of carbonation, giving it a mostly silky smoothness. The strong alcohol note is actually tamed nicely with the sweet flavors, allowing it to work without overpowering the entire beer. It does however cause the Samael’s Oak-Aged Ale Batch No.10 to have an interesting finish, almost like the finish of an aged bourbon, neat.4
As it warms the alcohol is a little more pronounced, while the malty, oaky caramel and vanilla continue pushing through the middle. Though 41 IBU isn’t very high, as the beer warms you do get that slight bitterness that isn’t as prominent when it’s colder. It’s not unpleasant as it balances out the rich sweetness nicely, though I think I would prefer the beer somewhere in the middle of right out of the fridge and room temperature.
While I can’t find it anymore, Avery used to describe The Demons of Ale series as “a most devilish conception” which is an apt tagline. The packaging quite impressive, from the imposing red foil down to the label’s evil artwork, and the beer itself is an imposing brew as well. With an impressively high ABV and a price tag that your average six-pack would have, it is definitely an evil beer to love. The most impressive part for me though, is that despite the high ABV, Samael’s has a superb balance that doesn’t let the alcohol note overwhelm – something even beers with less ABV sometimes struggle with. Really, my only two issues with Samael’s is that it is a once a year release and it’s so expensive. Other than that, it’s a beer that I never hesitate to grab off the shelf when I see it.