At some point in the past year or so New Glarus switched the name of their quarterly, one-off special release series of beers from "Unplugged" to "Thumbprint." Disappointingly, they also changed to label, removing the superbly goofy sketch of brewmaster Dan Carey and replacing it with the company's standard "Drink Indigenous" Wisconsin logo. New Glarus President Deb Carey explains the switch this way on the company website:
"It is always flattering when less imaginative competitors copy our beers, packaging, and/or marketing. I usually accept this as a personal challenge to do something more. When our trademarked Solstice name was infringed on, I regrouped with Dancing Man. When lots of deconstructed 4 and 6 packs showed up I knew I was doing a good job. When another Midwestern brewer released a "Un*******" series. I thought I can do better."
Deb is no doubt referring to the "Unchained" series from St. Paul brewery Summit, which has been churning out excellent beers under that label for a couple of years now. I suppose "Unchained" is a bit derivative of "Unplugged," though I don't think anyone would confuse the two. Regardless, this new limited release Barley Wine is a "Thumbprint" beer. Made with Styrian Golding, Willamette, Columbia and Sterling hops.
Appearance: Light copper, straw
Aroma: Tropical fruit with a spicy, floral hop note.
Flavor: Earthy hop flavor up front with just a hint of citrus, followed by a malt sweetness blending with a bracingly bitter finish. A bit of alcohol warmth in the finish as well. Enough malt flavor to tame the hops just a bit, but the bitterness is the focus. With a slightly thinner body, this could easily pass for a Double IPA.
Drinkability: One is just right for me, thank you. Not the heaviest beer I've ever had, but full bodied and with a strong bitterness. Definitely not a session beer. (No ABV is listed for this beer, but if it's south of 10 percent I'd be surprised.)
Summary: New Glarus Unplugged/Thumbprint beers can often be fascinating without being intense; that's part of the reason I still have fond memories of beers like their Bohemian Pilsner and Berliner Weiss. But as they proved last year with their stellar Double IPA, they can go big when they want to, and this is another example. In a way this rides the line between American and British style Barley Wines; it is American in the high hop flavor, aroma and bitterness, but the hop profile strikes me as more European than American. Willamette and Sterling are American hops, they don't have the citrusy quality of popular west-coast hops like Cascade and Centenial (Sterling has noble hop lineage, it should be noted). An interesting and well orchestrated take on the Barley Wine style. Though the hop flavor will die down in time, this could be a good beer for the cellar as well, though hop heads should drink it while it's fresh.