Tasting: May 23, 2012
Weâ€™ve been drilled on the notion that time; light and heat are the enemies of beer. Weâ€™ve seen â€œborn on datingâ€ to â€œbest if consumed byâ€ and â€œstore in a cool dark placeâ€ on labels for years. Heat and light may always be the enemy of good tasting beer â€“ but time is becoming less of an issue. More and more brewers are pumping up the volume of ABV and brewing beer with big malt â€“ low hop profiles. Recently, I wrote about Dogfish Head even suggesting that consumers â€œburyâ€ a few bottles of their Old School in the woods for a year or so. I’ve also seen labels that say things like “will age up to five years”.
You shouldnâ€™t try aging any beer â€“ unpasteurized/live beers (fermented in the bottle), or fresh hopped offerings and beer with low alcohol content (under 5%) are still subject to the axiom. You might ask about a Russian imperial stout â€“ thatâ€™s a big malt brew. It may have a high enough ABV to age and doesnâ€™t have much of a hop profile. Yes, age may mellow out the sting of a high ABV, but may not do much to enhance (say) a coffee or chocolate flavor. To me, it just extends the shelf life. A Barley Wine might be a better candidate.
When you age a red wine â€“ it mellows the astringency of the young grape and alcohol. In some cases, age reveals more polished flavors in big red wines. In â€œbig malt brewsâ€ (those with high opening gravity or high degrees plato), dark fruit (raisins, dates, prunes) are a desirable characteristic and can be present in these heavy malt offerings. Here again, time will minimize the bite of the high ABV and present a more prominent â€œdark fruitâ€ flavor.
Long story short â€“ check the label. If a brewer suggests that the beer would age gracefully â€“ why not cellar a bottle in a cool, dark place? But really why age a beer — there are plenty available that are ready to go.
This ale from California brewer â€“ North Coast. It’s the 12 ounce bottle. I’m told the cork and cage bomber is really last year’s vintage. I’ll have to pick up one since it’s already been aged. On their website, they indicate that this is a beer that can be aged. Quick label check and it does check in at a whopping 11.7% ABV. Pours a cola brown with a head that rapidly retreats. That’s not a surprise with a big ABV. Aroma is of strong alcohol ethers. First sip is of potent alcohol burn and subdued malts of raisin and molasses. With age I could see the alcohol burn retreating and those dark fruits coming further to the front. Reminds me of a Barley Wine or even Otter Creek’s 20th anniversary ale. I would probably give it a stronger score in a year or so — but for now, it’s mediocre at 84 points.