Sunday, 16 April 2017

Westvleteren 12

Origin: Belgium | Date: 2012 | ABV: 10.2% | On The Beer Nut: December 2007

This bottle of Westvleteren 12 was not captured in the wild, acquired instead via the brick-shaped six-packs that the brewery released in 2012 as a one-off fund-raising effort. When I got it open I was surprised by the lack of head on my glassful, I don't remember that being a feature of the beer. The flavour is still undimmed, however: it still has all the complexities that made this beer so famous.

So, it's a prune-like bitterness up front, then a Christmas pudding cakey sweetness, replete with citrus peel, sweet juicy raisins and lashings of spiritous booze. Wholesome and clean, yet heavy and a little bit dirty. It's an absolute beaut, but...

I'm really not tasting what four and a half years of cellaring has done to this. There's not even a trace of oxidation, which is kind of the baseline of ageing beer. The subtle fruit notes haven't diminished and there's no extra emphasis on the weighty malt or heady alcohol either. I don't think I've ever had a beer of such high quality cause me to shrug.

If you're still sitting on most of a brick you can leave it alone for now. It's not getting worse but I'm not sure if it's going to get any better either.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Franciscan Well Jameson Stout

Origin: Ireland | Date: 2012 | ABV: 7.8% | On The Beer Nut: December 2012

It's getting warmer in the stash. 2017's summer break is not far away, I'd say. At the moment it's pretty much perfect stout temperature up there so I thought I'd tackle one of the big guns: Franciscan Well's Jameson Stout. This was the second large-format stout that Franciscan Well released, following the previous year's Shandon Century, and the first collaboration between the brewery and Irish Distillers. It was also, I think, Franciscan Well's last new beer before the takeover by MolsonCoors was announced in early 2013.

To be honest, I don't think the years have had much effect on this one. It probably needs more than four of them to make any appreciable difference. There's still a beautiful pot-still honey sweetness at the middle of it all, surrounded by subtle dark chocolate, coffee and caramel. The only wear and tear I detect is a pinch of cardboardy oxidation in the finish and a minor savoury tang suggesting that autolysis might be at work. But you really have to look hard to find both of these: for the most part this beer is still doing everything the brewer intended it to do. Which is good.

So, I'm only slightly regretting opening it. On the one hand I'd love to find out what happens to those honey and chocolate notes after another five or six years, but on the other I reckon that the swingtop cap is not keeping the bottle optimally sealed and this could be the start of a downward slide. I guess all that really matters is how much I'm enjoying the contents of the mug in front of me.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Black Damnation II: Mocha Bomb

Origin: Belgium/Netherlands | Date: 2011 | ABV: 12% | On The Beer Nut: September 2011

This imperial stout had me thinking about the role of coffee in beers. When it's used properly it's all about the freshness, giving the sensation of walking into a warm coffeehouse on a cold day. I can't imagine that coffee ages well when used in beer, even particularly robust ones. And Black Damnation II is certainly robust, constructed by blending two imperial stouts from Struise with a whisky-cask-aged one from De Molen, resulting in a 12% ABV masterpiece which I described in 2011 as tasting like an Irish coffee.

Not so much any more. Time has harshened what should be a really smooth experience. I blame the yeast: there's a substantial layer of sludge in the bottom of the small bottle and a definite autolytic twang in the flavour, a beefy Bovril taint upsetting the equilibrium. The coffee is still there but, as I suspected, it has lost its fresh oils and instead tastes burnt and bitter. There's a rusty metallic note as well and I've no idea where that might have come from -- oxidation maybe? -- but it's another bum note in a beer that already has enough of them.

I thought I had this ageing system down: that strong and dark aged beautifully indefinitely, but this is one of the strongest and darkest I've had on here and it's definitely gone to perdition.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Westmalle Dubbel

Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007

It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings of my discovering beer, and my first drinking excursions to Belgium. Just one sip and I'm back at A L'Imaige De Nostre Dame in Brussels. But I've no idea how an aged bottle tastes. The original of the style is also the weakest I know of, and it's possible that a mere 7% ABV will not provide enough for time (eight years) to build upon. I'd better open it.

I haven't had a fresh one of these in a while, but I think it smells more pungent than they do, and an almost Pedro Ximinez level of ripe boozy raisin. There's sweet sherry in the flavour too, which is possibly just oxidation at work, but it does transform the beer in a fun and pleasant way. It hasn't become magically heavier than usual, but it has elements of the things you find in double-digit dark Belgian-style beers: the fruit, the cake, the rounded estery greasiness, though not the heat. It still remains lightly textured and easy drinking.

Seems to me like a handy way to upgrade your Westmalle Dubbel into something more complex is leave it alone for a few years.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Bourbon County

Origin: USA | Date: 2009 | ABV: 13% | On The Beer Nut: April 2010

There was much fuss in the beer blogoshire, and further abroad, about the arrival of this one to the UK recently: just 100 bottles in the country, at £20 a pop. But before the Goose Island brewery was sold to the world's biggest mass-market brewer, its appearance was a far more casual affair. I acquired a couple of bottles of the 2009 vintage back in 2010 and this one has been sitting in the stash ever since.

Slightly worryingly, the cap is a twist-off, peeling away with just the faintest hiss. It glugs out thickly and flatly, giving off a faint beefy Bovril smell as it does so. A proper sniff moves away from that and gives me sweeter hot fudge and butterscotch sauces. The bourbon character comes out on tasting, and rather tasty it is too: sweet vanilla and bitter tar, glowering at each other but neither able to dominate. You get to take your time moving from one to the other because of the massively thick texture. There's also a very real whisky flavour, a pleasantly sweet burn, scorching the gullet and warming the innards: it's one of the truest expressions of whisky in beer I've ever encountered.

This is beautiful, classic, stuff, and completely untroubled by eight summers in my attic. Everything I wrote about it originally still rings true. If you've bought a bottle of the 2016 you probably don't need to think about opening it for a while yet.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Ola Dubh

Origin: UK | Date: 2009 | ABV: 8% | On The Beer Nut: February 2010

With the blog turning a year old tomorrow it's time to get started on a new season of Stash Killing. Harviestoun Ola Dubh is based on the brewery's classic dark ale Old Engine Oil and has been aged in barrels that previously contained Highland Park 12-year-old single malt whisky. Other versions using older casks are also available. I was a little put out by the marker pen phenols in this when I first tasted it so was interested to find out if seven years in the stash would smooth that out.

And yes, it does. What I was expecting next is the lovely rich chocolate flavours to come pouring out, spiced up with some whisky heat, but that's not what happened. While there's a distinct honey-and-vanilla whisky aroma, the flavour is very muted, verging on bland. There's a mild whisky taste at the front, and a touch of bitter tarry coffee, but the whole taste fades out very quickly. I think that's because the base beer doesn't have the body to carry it: this is startlingly thin for the strength. I guess this is why brewers tend to use bigger beers when they're doing the barrel thing.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the beer, but it hasn't picked up any extra complexities through ageing and has quite possibly lost a few. I was surprised to see the brewery had put a mere three-year best-before on it, but perhaps this is why. Drink 'em if you've got 'em.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Porterhouse Celebration Stout

Origin: Ireland | Date: 2006 | ABV: 10% | On The Beer Nut: October 2006

This is the oldest beer in the stash, by a good couple of years I'd say. It was released as The Porterhouse's tenth anniversary beer and I'm opening it now because I covered the twentieth anniversary one over on the other blog recently. I've also reviewed a vintage bottle of the permanent version that the brewery began producing in 2010, as well as this one at the four year mark. But enough history, on with the drinking.

There's not much of a head to see as it pours, though a thin layer of ivory foam does stay on top of the dense black body all the way down. It smells every ounce of its 10% ABV, the dark booziness accentuated by a black marker pen solvent buzz.

The flavour is amazingly complex. This was a bitter liquorice bomb when it first arrived. Now it has settled down into a smooth and luscious mix of oily coffee and Pedro Ximinez raisin fruit. For a 10%-er it's ridiculously easy drinking, the carbonation low and the texture remarkably light. The finish is pure silky dark chocolate, the only real nod towards bitterness in the whole thing.

A stunning beer, and a shining example of the benefit of letting strong dark beers age for a decade or so.