There is, despite what Trader Joe's want you to think, no "Trader Joe's Brewing Company". I'm sure that's about as shocking as learning COSTCO beer is produced by Gordon Biersch and not Kirkland, but there you go.
Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale is brewed by the often brilliant Unibroue, known for such hits as Trois Pistoles and La Fin Du Monde. With this beer you get a holy mix of the brewery's panache for quality and Trader Joe's low prices. I don't care who you are and how contrarian you want to be about Trader Joe's: that is just a great deal at around $5.
The ale pours a nice dark brown color with a bubbly head. There's a lot of carbonation going on, which might be off-putting to some, but works well for this "Belgian strong".
The nose reveals spicy malts with just a little hint of hopiness toward the back. It should be recognizable to anyone who has enjoyed a Unibroue before.
Tasting, there's a nice subtle sweetness to the profile, almost a smooth caramel, mixed in with the gingerbread like spices. A bit of hopiness hits the back. The 2011 Vintage Ale doesn't come across as a flavor bomb, but has a lot of depth to it if you are willing to look for it. Slowly sip it, while letting it warm a bit, and hints of raisins and fruits will make themselves known.
Mouthfeel might be a bit thin for this style of ale, but not to the point of being unpleasant.
The 2011 Vintage Ale is a great bang for the buck. Flavor wise it's similar to aforementioned Unibroues, but at a better price point. Worth picking up.
Vote for Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale: It’s your civic duty!