Sunday, 3 October 2021

Cantillon Gueuze

Origin: Belgium | Dates: 2016 & 2021 | ABV: 5.5% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007

Not all beers improve with age. The strong and dark ones get the best press, which is fair enough, but vintage gueze is also revered. It's a phenomenon about which I am sceptical. I like the clean zest of young gueze and am not at all convinced that letting it age out is necessarily a good idea. Luckily, I have this blog for the testing of opinions like this and today I'm tasting the difference blind.

The field of play is two bottles of Cantillon Gueuze, one bottled in March 2016 and one bottled five years and two days later. The cork of the vintage one was saturated in beer but hadn't turned mouldy, as sometimes happens. Feature one of age is fizz, with the older edition much more foamy on pouring. With that comes sediment: the one that turned out to be the 2016 was much cloudier than the 2021, which was a bright amber-gold.

I was on the lookout for that zest effect, and the 2021 had lots of it in its aroma, all fresh and zingy lemon spritz. The older one smells funkier, with a more pronounced earthy aroma, hinting a little at blue cheese. Both are excellent but, as mentioned, my taste runs more to the zest.

The difference between them is not as apparent on tasting. The 2016 is smooth with notes of old oak and a waxy bitterness. The gunpowder and black pepper spicing arrives late. I found the younger version to be sharper, with an almost vinegar tang in the foretaste. The zest is present but not as prominent as I noticed in the aroma. It's still very very good, but less complex than the matured one, and complexity beats zest, for me. The spices in particular are missing and I wonder if that's something that comes with the sediment build-up. Even down in the dregs of the 2021 bottle there was a tasty nitric sharpness but not much spice.

I have learned a lesson here: geuze is very much worth ageing. I'm sure there's an upper limit on that -- the brewery suggests 20 years. I'll see how far I get with my last bottle of 2016.

Friday, 6 August 2021

The Bruery Grey Monday

Origin: USA | Date: 2017 | ABV: 20% | On The Beer Nut: December 2017

We had a jolly time of it, at St James's Gate, for the International Stout Day celebrations in 2017. The Bruery was the celebrity American brewery with beers in attendance, big 75cl bottles, and Padraig backhanded me a bottle of the strongest one, Grey Monday, as I was leaving. It's been in the attic ever since. A beer this strength will probably keep forever, but I won't, so it's getting opened now after only three and a half years' maturation. At least I get to spend a bit of time with it uninterrupted here.

I didn't say a lot about it on its original outing, finding it lighter than expected with predominantly easy-going chocolate notes. And I don't think it's radically different after nearly four years in poor cellaring conditions. It hasn't turned to sherry or vinegar; nor has it matured to the perfect late-night sipper. There's still a lot of chocolate, and maybe it's become a little darker, bitterer and more challenging than before, but not significantly. I get a novel buzz of espresso roast, but I may have missed that last time.

Fresh from stash to fridge to glass it was all very light and easy-going, but it only took a few minutes of warming in a kitchen in August for the booze to properly assert itself. I noticed marker pen first time out, and that's certainly still here, but it's integrated into a greater booziness -- whiskey, brandy and schnapps -- which really shows off that whopping ABV honestly. After a while, that's all that matters: the sippable beery nuance fades to irrelevance and you're dealing with a slightly fizzy liqueur. Make your peace with that.

Maybe I should have left this longer. Maybe it would have become richer and more interesting. But it's equally likely it's just going to turn into some sort of autolysed chocolate marinade. I got my buzz off it before it was ruined, and I'm happy with that. Cheers Foxy!

Friday, 9 April 2021

Lough Gill Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Cream Stout

Origin: Ireland | Date: 2017 | ABV: 11% | On The Beer Nut: February 2017

There have been cans in the stash for a while now but today is the first time I've opened one to see what's happened to it. This was the originator of Lough Gill's short-lived "Rebel Stout" series, a then-limited edition which now lives in their core range under the name Dark Majik with a much more tasteful label.

I think it's a suitable candidate for can-ageing, being a whopping 11% ABV, and it's only had four years or so. What harm? Oatmeal, coffee and cream would probably get this classified as a pastry stout these days, though the name wasn't in use at the time. It doesn't smell sweet, however, coming across dry and boozy, with a touch of sherry-like oxidation.

The creamy chocolate side is still there in the flavour, tasting as fresh as when it was new; as is the dark fruit of Bramling Cross hops. I guess cans really do seal the good stuff in well. I get maybe a faint hint of sweet dark sherry but it's heavily buried under everything else going on.

I think this beer was only just beginning to show the effects of age. I'm guessing that in time it would have dried out into something funky and leathery. After four years it's still in the first flush of easy-drinking youth. The lesson for the stash may be that cans will need more time before the interesting stuff starts happening, if it ever does.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Courage Imperial Russian Stout

Origin: UK | Date: 2012 | ABV: 10% | On The Beer Nut: February 2013

That (to me) over-hoppiness will, I feel fairly confident, die down over the next year or two, making this a beer I really, really want to come back to about May 2013, and again in 2014. And, ideally, in 2021. 

So wrote Martyn Cornell in the conclusion of his run through a series of vintages of Courage Imperial Russian Stout, composed following the release of a new version by Wells & Young. And now 2021 is upon us and it's time to find out if the beer has fared better than the Luton brewery has.

My bottle is actually a whole year younger than Martyn's, being the 2012 vintage. The hop levels never bothered me when it was fresh and I think they have stood the beer in good stead. There is still that metallic bitterness, but now it's adding a much needed dry side to something that otherwise tastes largely of chocolate syrup and dark sherry. There's a vinous, casky briskness, and just a little savoury autolysis. All the features of long-vintaged strong dark beers are here, but not extreme. You know you're drinking something old, though not spoilt; not yet anyway.

It's not a revelation, and I'm not even sure it's an improvement on the fresh version, but it is enjoyable. A new sweet side has emerged, adding a mellow richness that wasn't there before. The oxidation is a little dramatic, even if it's not ruinous. If this beer has a sweet spot, I'd say it's before the 9-year mark.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Two Hundred Fathoms

Origin: Ireland | Date: 2016 | ABV: 10% | On The Beer Nut: February 2014

It's not often that a vintage beer comes with a warning from the producer to drink up, but Galway Bay issued one such notice to holders of Two Hundred Fathoms older than 2017. I don't need to be told twice so got stuck into this bottle of the 2016 vintage. 

I'm really not sure I believe the brewery, though it's possible that this is in peak condition because it is gorgeous. There's coffee and liquorice and tar and all the stuff that makes big and serious stout worthwhile. But there's also sweeter and happier chocolate, cherry, cola and hazelnut: basically everything that's dark and lovely about beer. I genuinely didn't notice it was barrel aged as there's no whiskey gimmickry or burn; all is smooth and integrated and eminently drinkable.

All that leaves me wondering what the panic is. Oxidation? Autolysis? Because there is zero sign of anything going wrong, as far as I could taste. Mind you, this was a stunner when it was fresh on tap, so I could well believe it isn't improving. But at the same time, if you're holding some, I don't know that I'd be in a big rush to drink it. Though you should definitely drink it.

Brewery clarification incoming: it's an autolysis thing. Since the introduction of a centrifuge, there's much less chance of that happening to the bottle in your stash.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Ska Decadent

Origin: USA | Date: 2015 | ABV: 10% | On The Beer Nut: April 2019

I made a point early on of clearing the stash of anything hop forward. They just don't age as well. Recently, however, I came into possession of this five-year-old bottle of Ska's imperial IPA. Would it buck the curve? I reckoned that 10% ABV made it a contender for transformation into a lovely barley wine once the fresh hop character faded out.

It still smelled quite hoppy, a bright kick of orange and grapefruit. That's backed, of course, with toffee and booze, but as such not so different to the fresh version. Strangely the malt is not especially prominent in the flavour and it's tannic and quite dry rather than sugary sweet. There's plenty of hop bitterness, but it's not harsh, coming across smooth and zesty. There's a real touch of Negroni about it: that kind of fruity warmth with a herbal complexity on a dry base.

Looking back at my notes on this beer previously, it seems it has mellowed significantly over the years. The floral side has gone, though it's taken the sharp intensity with it. Maybe the recipe has changed but I think it's entirely possible we have a rare example of a new world IPA that improves with age, and it is definitely still a hop-flavoured IPA, not a barley wine. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Rascals Flanders Red

Origin: Ireland | Date: 2017 | ABV: 7.5% | On The Beer Nut: November 2017

Travel to Belgium is off for the next while, so we take our Flemish reds where we find them. This one from Rascals, brewed at their old brewery, now transferred to Lineman, was 6.4% ABV when it first appeared on draught. I said at the time that cellaring would improve it, and when bottles arrived shortly afterwards, the ABV bumped up to 7.5%, I bought one and did just that. Unusually for beers featured on this blog, it wasn't aged in my temperature-fluctuating attic but has been at the back of the beer fridge for two and a bit years.

I had to go back and read why I thought this needed to be aged. It seems the sourness wasn't sufficient -- it was all herbs and fruit and lacked tartness. Well that has definitely changed. It's gone full-on Flemish with a sharp and savoury tang that's not quite vinegar at this stage but is headed in that direction. It's a waxy twang, with lots of oak and a hint of saltpetre, showing definite attributes of Belgium's finest sour beers. The cherries, herbs and balsam resins are still there in abundance, and there's a thick boozy kick which interferes with things a little but is to be expected given the strength.

This was a very worthwhile experiment. The beer has really come into its own in its time in the fridge, much as I hoped it would. It is no longer an Irish approximation of a foreign style but something that genuinely tastes like it was aged in big foeders in a brewery that's been doing this sort of thing for decades. All you need is time.