Monday, April 11, 2011

Review #11 - Avery Maharaja

Posted by: Stonecipher

Apr. 11, 2011

A couple of weeks ago Emily and I spent the weekend in Boulder, Colorado and of course, a trip to Avery Brewing Company was on the itinerary.  It was about six months prior that I had first tasted the Maharaja on tap in Avery’s tasting room and I fell for it instantly.  Not much made it to Illinois though, and although I was teased with the promise of Maharaja once over the winter, the only bottle I was able to track down was in Richmond, Virginia of all places.  Needless to say, I was looking forward to our return trip to Boulder, particularly because a new batch of Avery’s delicious Double IPA was scheduled to be tapped just days before we arrived.

We arrived at the tasting room about an hour and a half before close, and while that may not seem like a particularly long time to some, when your body is not quite adjusted to the 5,430 foot altitude and you are drinking 10% beer, it can be a bit much.  So despite the fact that the Raja tasted like heaven that evening, this first review of the second half of The List (By the way, check out the two outstanding beers we reviewed for our special “half-time” show) is based on a fresh bottle that I picked up on my way out of town. 

ABV: 10.54%
IBUs: 102
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: American Double/Imperial India Pale Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.18 – Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: A+/4.68 – World Class
Current Number of Reviews/Rank in the Top 20 on Beer Advocate: 1,331/7th
Brewery Description: Avery Maharaja
Bottled On: Batch #13, March, 2011

A couple of notes about the above information:

One, the ABV has varied slightly with each batch and different sources will likely give you different numbers, but Batch #13, the one I am reviewing here, weighs in at 10.54% as it states on the new bottle.

Two, as I predicted a few weeks ago, Maharaja has now moved back into the Number 7 spot on The List.

And Three, several people, our bartender at Avery included, have mentioned that Batch #13 is one of the best so far.  In my opinion, the Batch #12 that I had was great, but the #13 really did beat it.

On to the review…

APPEARANCE:  (5 out of 5) Look at that pretty head!  Poured from a 22 oz. bomber into a Delirium Tremens tulip glass the Maharaja’s head is about an inch thick and stark white.  The body of the beer is a rich, deep, red copper that is so clear that I can look down to the bottom of the glass and see the dozen or so large bubbles slowly breaking apart to create a steady stream of extra-tiny bubbles continuously rising from the bottom of the glass.  As the tulip glass becomes more and more empty a pretty, stained-glass lacing covers about 50% of the opposite side of the glass.

SMELL:  (4 out of 5) Strong floral aromas with hints of pine, grapefruit and even a touch of banana.  At the brewery last week I recall the smell being much stronger, but I also had five 10 oz. pours, so what I recall is suspect at best.  This is an excellent smelling beer, but I would like more aroma.

TASTE:  (5 out of 5) A blast of hops and flowers assaults my tongue right off the bat, followed by a burst of grapefruit and a few other more subtle citrus flavors.  All the while, the malty notes are slowly building through the middle of the sip where they peak with a tempered sweetness.  The back end allows the malt to fade while the floral hops and the grapefruit return.  At the very tail end, the grapefruit kicks one last time leaving a bitter, citrusy taste on the tongue.  Throughout the glass I was also able to pick up hint of nuttiness and some grassy notes as well.  I have never said this about a beer, but the Maharaja is symmetrical, depending on how you look at it, it is either two waves of bitterness on either end of the sip or one sweet, malty wave in the middle.  Either way, it is delicious.  It should be noted, however, that it seems to be much bitterer than it was at the taproom.  At Avery, and on tap it was exceptionally malty and sweet, in the bottle it is a bitter hop bomb – again, delicious either way. 

MOUTHFEEL: (4 out of 5) With a bit of a tickle the Maharaja does not have a very strong carbonation.  With that in mind, along with the fact that there is a very strong malt presence (even in the bottle), it is rather surprising that Avery’s offering is neither mouthcoating nor oily.  Instead it is rather dry. 

OVERALL:  (5 out of 5) It is difficult for me to write anything objectively about Avery.  Their IPA was one of the very first that I fell in love with and my two trips to the brewery have only served to make me love them even more.  After this past week’s visit I believe they have thrust themselves from somewhere in my top five to over taking Lagunitas as my solid number two on my favorites list.  They’ll need to do just a tad better to edge out Ska.  Anyhow, I have only been privileged enough to have Maharaja a handful of times, but the flavor sticks with me and is always memorable.  Drinking this beer has been a celebratory experience, a social experience and a spiritual one.  As I sit here drinking it right now it is the latter.  This is the first time it has been just me and the beer.  I know I’m gushing about it, but this beer is special and very well may be the beer that has tipped the California vs. Colorado debate for me in favor of CO. 

DRAWBACKS:  Basically none, except the nose.  It may not be perfect for everyone.  If you’re a hop head expecting a Stone Ruination, you will be disappointed, but if you can appreciate complexity and some malt then Maharaja is for you.  Back to the nose, though, my guess is that if Avery ever tried to mess with the aroma they would destroy the taste as well, so I would never call for any changes to this beer, but for such a spectacular brew, it is a shame that planting my nose inside the glass for three minutes is not quite as wonderful a sensation as it has been for some of the other DIPAs on The List.

SOUND:  This one is a stretch, but as I mentioned above, the Maharaja can be a bit of a spiritual experience and as I was having this experience during this review, my iPod happened to start playing the perfect song.  I’m not religious at all, but I believe that this song was delivered to me as I drank this either by the spirit of Benjamin Franklin or by Silenus (the ancient Greek God of Beer).  The song?  It was Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redento”.  Haunting, soothing and exceptionally complex all at the same time, this masterpiece of sound from a legend in the jazz world is the perfect companion for you and a Maharaja.  I understand the stigma attached to drinking alone, but if it is done for the right reasons, at the right time, under the right conditions, with the right drink and with intent, it can be a transcendent experience.  If you can obtain a Maharaja wherever you are, I highly recommend that you secure a bottle, take it home and wait for a night when you know that no one else will bother you, download “Cristo Redento” by Donald Byrd, put it on repeat and crack the bottle open. 

The nearly 1,500 words I have written so far have taken me almost an hour to write and I have spent about 25 minutes listening to “Cristo” during that time.  I have also savored every sip of this beer the whole way through.  Furthermore, it has taken me this entire time that I have been writing to finish this spectacular beer and I would not want it any other way.  I have reviewed over half of The List here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights so far and I have already tasted 14 of the 20 and right now, Maharaja is the front runner in the taste department.  Yes, there are still six that I have not tried, but unless the YuleSmith beats this one I can’t imagine anyone else knocking it off its pedestal as the Gold Medal winner for 20 Beers and 20 Night’s Top 20 DIPAs.

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