This is the beer that introduced me to Rock Art Brewery and in many ways put the small Vermont operation on the larger craft beer map. You see, Rock Art received a cease and desist letter from the legal cronies of Monster Energy Drink, who were at the time planning a charge into the alcoholic energy drink scene, and claimed that Rock Art’s big Barley Wine, Vermonster, infringed on their trademark. I know … what a crock.

Thankfully, Rock Art took it to the web, and via some great video campaigning drummed up some serious support for their cause. The video says it all. Needless to say, Monster finally backed down, after stores on the East Coast started pulling Monster’s products off of their shelves in support of Matt Nadeau and Rock Art.

The beer itself is big, just like Rock Art claims. Pours a deep brown with a slight light tan head. Smells big … lots of ABVs in the nose. It is fruity and damp smelling behind that wall of alcohol. 10% ABV and it’s not pulling any punches. It was first brewed to celebrate Rock Art’s 10th year anniversary and Rock Art stays on the “10” theme throughout. Dry hopped at a pound per barrel.

It is a little too big for me. Definitely a sipper that gets better as it warms. I pick up the heavy ABVs, sweet roasted malt and all of those hops, toward which Vermonster tips its favor. Drink this one sitting down. Grade: B

Tom: If you are a fan of craft beer birthdays serve as great occasion to bust out a special brew or two (although any occasion is a good occasion). This was the case last Sunday when Taylor was able to acquire a bottle of Rock Art’s Vermonster from a relative and thought it would be fun to open it up for Noel’s birthday. Many of us there had never sampled anything from Rock Art and this beast of a Barleywine seemed like a great starter…why not?

Apparently, they brew a “mild” Barleywine called Ridge Runner which Taylor reviewed earlier. Vermonster (a 10th Anniversary brew) is its big brother. The name, while catchy and controversial, did strike a little fear in my palate. The bottle label states that it is 100 IBUs and 10% ABV so I had some idea of what to expect.

Taylor poured the contents into a few glasses each producing a rich, creamy, beige head that settled gently on a brown hazy liquid. In the light there we also hints of purple, copper, and mahogany hues.

The aroma was pretty formidable. The first thing that stood out to me was the big alcohol aroma that dominated my nostrils. While I’ve had a number of barleywines and high ABV beers, it seemed to stand out in this beer a lot more. There were of course dark fruits like prunes, dates, figs, and grapes present along with a deep caramel/toffee undertone. In the barleywines I’ve sampled this one was definitely on the sweeter malt side of the spectrum as opposed to Red Hook’s Treblehook which was definitely hoppier.

Deciding to do battle with Vermonster, I took a swig. Pretty impressive! It had a very full mouthfeel that was sticky. Taylor added that it was “chewy” to which I agree. The sweetness was evident right away as it carried toffee, grape, prunes, and date notes that were smooth. I did notice a slight chocolate malt presence, but only after my mouth got use to the alcoholic tingle. With regards to the 100 IBUs, I thought this was actually pretty mellow. There was a piney bitterness on the backend, but overall it was not as hoppy as I expected. I would say this beer had all the aroma and flavors one might find in a sherry, whiskey, bourbon, or cognac without the high proof of course. A nice treat on a special occasion, but definitely a monster you can tame. Grade: B-

ABV: 10.0%

Final Grade: B-