Review by: Cory Smith
As a senior at Miami (ok, senior and a half, I had to finish an extra semester) I was sad to see the landscape of my beautiful Oxford campus changing so rapidly. Almost all of my favorite hangouts were changing or being torn down, giving the new generation of Redhawks a bar scene that differed vastly from the one I’ll remember. But, that’s not always a bad thing. If they never tore down Brick Street and replaced it with a mixture of apartments and a new bar, Quarter Barrel, I’d never have tried one of my favorite beers — Curmudgeon Old Ale by Founders Brewing.
Quarter Barrel, for those of you who are in, or may visit Oxford soon, is an awesome craft-beer bar/brewpub that has a good selection of beers on tap, as well as house-brewed beers (brewed a quarter-of-a-barrel at a time). While I was there with my good friend, Mike, we were talking to the bartender and trying as many different beers as we could. Finally, the bartender, Nial, told us of a beer that was aged in oak and brewed with molasses. It sounded delicious to us, so we ordered our first round.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m finally seeing good Ol’ Curmudgeon on the shelves again. Here’s what I think of the 2014 edition of Founder’s Curmudgeon Old Ale.
While it has almost no head on the pour, Curmudgeon looks like a lively, vivacious ale. The beer is the color of dark mahogany, or cherry wood. Red and brown hues mingle together while allowing almost all light to shine through. The clarity of this thing is impressive. I actually held up some paper behind it and could read the text straight through the beer. Well done, Founders, well done.
This thing smells like dark, sweet, brown sugar. The molasses is prevalent, as well as other malt sweetness. Notes of toffee, toast, burnt marshmallow, do their part to mask the 9.8% ABV that this beer packs. There is a slight fruity sweetness too, almost like cherries or citrus fruits. Hints of maple also come through, but, really, this beer smells like a barley-wine. It is big, malty, and full of alcohol.
Just like molasses, Curmudgeon is a thick, viscous beer. Swishing from one cheek to the other almost takes effort, and the moderate carbonation foams up like toothpaste before you rinse. Old ales, by nature, are supposed to be big and chewy because they’re usually not well attenuated, meaning that not a lot of sugars are converted to alcohol during fermentation. This leaves beers with big bodies and bold sweetness.
Lots of malt sweetness up front. It’s like drinking molasses mixed with caramel and then mixed with a shot of vodka. This is not a big-sipping beer, this is a big sipping-beer. While the malt does a decent job of smothering the alcohol, this is still a warm beer that is best enjoyed slowly. As it warms I’m getting more of the wood tones from the oak aging process, and some lighter fruity notes subtly sneak into the aftertaste. I also get subtle tones of cola and black licorice. Curmudgeon is a very complex and delicious brew.
There’s a reason that Mike and I didn’t stop at one glass of Curmudgeon at Quarter Barrel, it’s freaking delicious. Delicious, and dangerously drinkable. While there is an alcohol presence, it’s not equal to the actual alcohol level that’s in the beer. A couple glasses of Curmudgeon, and you’re good to go!
My rating of Curmudgeon is going to be a 93 or A-. While I have a personal connection to the beer, I also realize why I have such fond memories of Ol’ Curmudgeon — it’s great. The bready molasses flavors are sweet and almost boarder on saccharine. The body is full and smooth and perfectly carbonated. When I was in college, I hadn’t had a beer with this combination of flavors. Nowadays, I’m glad it’s back.