Some of my favorite beer industry collaborations are those that bring together an iconic brewery steeped in the lore and history of the industry with a younger and more nimble beer purveyor better known for experimentation or novelty. The resulting collaboration beers tend to feel like the best of both worlds—two ethos meeting at a happy medium. Masters of consistency and nuance, pushed outside their comfort zone. Bold experimenters, reined in from ever taking things too far into the realm of excess. That’s more or less what I’m expecting, when I see a collaboration between two companies like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
Sierra Nevada, well, it’s not like they need an introduction. The company, which also announced the public release of the first whiskey distilled from its beer recently, is perhaps the most widely beloved brewery of its era. And Athens, GA’s Creature Comforts is really not all that far behind in terms of recognition these days, even if its beer still doesn’t make it to nearly as many states. Beloved for their flagship IPA Tropicalia and dozens of other beers besides, they’re known for adventurous, curiosity driven wild ales and barrel-aged beers. But it was the description of this latest one, A Force For Good, which really sold me.
A Force For Good is an entry in Creature’s charitable Get Comfortable series, which provides 100% of its profits to local programs “designed to channel the generosity of many toward the Athens, GA community’s most pressing needs.” To this end, they’ve brewed a new imperial brown ale with Sierra Nevada, weighing in at a gaudy 12.8% ABV. This beer was then conditioned in Jamaican rum barrels, and was further aged on Brazilian Amburana wood, which has been an object of novelty in the beer community for a few years now. Amburana is also known as Brazilian oak, and has some interesting properties—most notably, the fact that it can contribute some intensely spicy and rich characteristics to spirits and beer, with baking spice notes that are so strong that they often seem like actual dry spices rather than simply wood. Combined with the rum barrel and imperial brown ale, this was something I quite wanted to taste. So let’s get to it!
On the nose, A Force For Good presents a beguiling combination of beer, spirit and wood influences. The moment I cracked the can was an odd experience—I got a literal whiff of Jamaican rum, in a way I’ve never really associated even with rum barrel-aged beer before. It was such a specific, varietal characteristic that it was like I was sniffing a bottle of Appleton or Hampden Estates, full over overripe fruit and hogo, the Jamaican term for an aged rum’s pleasantly funky profile.
Actually raising the glass to my nose, however, was decidedly different—here, it wasn’t “rum” or spirit that was really expressive, but fruit, malt and wood-derived spice. The overall nose reminds me of nothing so much as a cinnamon raisin bagel or spiced oatmeal raisin cookie—it has a very expressive cinnamon/allspice aromatic, coupled with dark toasted malt and hints of dark fruit and booze. Suffice to say, it’s an incredibly holiday appropriate suite of flavors.
On the palate, A Force For Good features sweet cinnamon and light-roasted, nutty Colombian coffee, verging toward Mexican hot chocolate. If you presented this to any beer geek, they would absolutely think that actual dry spices had been involved, and quite a lot of spices—it’s incredible that all of these spice notes of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg could come from Brazilian Amburana wood rather than actual steeped spices. Just another miracle of what is possible with wood. Texture wise, this one is slightly syrupy, but it’s also not overwhelmingly sweet. Alcohol, meanwhile, is extremely hidden on the palate for the 12.8% ABV, meaning that this one could be very dangerous indeed. I doubt most drinkers sampling it blind would believe it was even over 10% ABV.
All in all, this offering strikes me as a fun, novel way of doing “dessert beer” right, avoiding the pitfalls of saccharine sweetness that so often have me railing against similar styles, while also highlighting the unique profile that can be achieved through exotic styles of wood such as Amburana. A few bonus points as well for the holiday appropriateness, perhaps? Sure, why not.
Brewery: Creature Comforts x Sierra Nevada
City: Athens, GA
Style: Imperial brown ale (barrel aged)
Availability: Limited, 16 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.