An Ale of Quadricentinneal Proportions


Williamsburg Alewerks – Williamsburg, VA
“400” [Imperial Brown] Ale
Approximately 6.5% ABV

Can you believe it’s been 400 years since Captain John Smith traded goods with the Nanticokes, and traded arrows and musket balls with the Algonquins on his trip up the Chesapeake Bay? …seems like yesterday that he and the others struck out from Jamestown to seek passage to the Pacific in their low-draft shallop. Anywho, Williamsburg Alewerks brewed up a limited edition brown ale to commemorate the founding of Jamestown and the subsequent plundering of America’s land and people. Hurrah!

But don’t take my word for it, the cutesy write-up on the classy painted label says it all:

“400” Ale commemorates the founding of the first Virginia Settlement and with it, the founding of the American brewing industry. Beer was an essential component of everyday life in Jamestown, only the security and shelter provided by the triangular shaped fort and cultivation of edible (no doubt including barley) crops outranked the production of beer in importance. Fresh water flowing in local streams and the recently excavated well provided a source of potable water, but beer and other “processed liquids, primarily beer” were preferred drinks.
This ale, like the ales of the time, is brown in color. This beer may be more robust than 18th century brews, a liberty we chose to take. How could we possibly do justice to so important an event of 400 years ago, with anything other than a truly robust, full flavored contemporary “Imperial Brown Ale.” Cheers.

Trebuch le jump for details and opinions on this anniversary ale.

The term Imperial, as applied to beer, originated in England in the 18th century. Hoping to take capitalize on the recent trade lines opened up with Russia, English brewers ramped up their traditional stouts and porters with more hops and more alcohol. This, they hoped, would accomplish two things: 1) help the beer survive the long, arctic sail up the Baltic, and 2) impress the senses of the Russian court, whose tolerance for the strongest spirits were legendary. Neither party was disappointed with the innovative arrangement. The beer was popular in Russia until the late 1800’s when trade disputes broke the tradition.

In the context of today’s brews, Imperial (aka Double) is (over) applied to any beer that’s racked up a few notches over it’s stylistic brethren. While it’s particularly popular among Stouts and IPAs, the Imperial style is rarely applied to Brown Ales and when it is, I’m suckered into seeing what the brew is all about. Case in point, my purchase of Williamsburg Alewerks (why the F did they have to misspell it?) “400” Imperial Brown Ale.

This was a 22oz. bomber I picked up at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits poured into a 14oz glass mug.

Poured quickly but carefully, the beer revealed itself as an opaque reddish brown ale, yielding a very thin cream head.

On the nose, I picked up a very light scent of toasted malt with a whiff of coffee. I did drink this way too cold, straight out of the fridge, so I’m sure the aromas were numbed a bit.

The taste was out in full force though. Delicious wallop of caramel, toffee, and coffee up front with an excellent balance in the middle from earthy bittering hops. Alcohol comes through on the tail-end, pleasant and appropriate for the improvised style. Nevermind that the “Imperial Brown Ale” tag that the Williamsburg Alewerks gave this beer may be a bit tacky, that’s exactly what it tastes like and it makes for an excellent beer.

It is a little thin and slick for an imperial – which should be a bit more syrupy than this. A little heavy on the carbonation, too. Perfect for a Brown Ale, but I just can’t decide about this Imperial Brown Ale thing.

I thought it was very drinkable for an imperial. Although, again, I drank this pretty cold. ABV isn’t listed on the bottle or on Williamsburg Alewerks website. I guessed it to be around 7%. I stumbled on some blog that listed it as 6.5%, which I’m inclined to believe.

All in all, this is an very good beer that I’d highly recommend. Since it’s a limited edition brew with a dwindling local inventory, this beer has served mostly to pique my interest in other Williamsburg Ales, which are relatively easy to find in and around DC. Take note Captain Smith, your contemporaries have done you proud.

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  • 80 Proof January 25, 2008  

    Two part question in two parts:

    Did you barter for this beer? If so, how many hen eggs did you forsake?

  • gansie January 25, 2008  

    this post definitely wins the award for most scholarly and well researched. well done there timmy-boy.

  • Tim January 25, 2008  

    For yon beverage, I offered the leather of one shoe (a Jamestown delicacy) and a 1/4 bushel of hard tack.

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