Words by Greasylightbulb
After a hiatus that was threatening to turn epochal, the Thirsty Boys finally managed to be in the same place at the same time and in the company of a themed beer selection. It’s certainly not that we hadn’t been drinking in the meantime, it’s just that orderly structure had eventually given way to a pleasant casual whimsy. However much like a room of monkeys on typewriters, all we had to do was wait long enough and this day was bound to happen.
Being nothing if not contrary, it was decided to ignore the fresh sensorial delights of the current wet hop season and instead explore the dusty old box that had been unearthed when I recently moved house. I knew there had been some bottles somewhere in the garage, some of which had been put away on purpose, others less so. I hoped some might be nice, but figured that even if not, then it could provoke interesting discussion about the whys and wherefores of ageing beers.
1. The Bruery Saison Rue (8.5% ABV)
The box turned out to contain a pleasingly wide variety of beer styles. First up being a 2012 Saison from Orange County’s Belgianesque The Bruery. They no longer make this under the same label, but spinoff brand Bruery Terreux do. It’s made with rye and bottle conditioned with some brettanomyces. Described in the literature as rich and hoppy when fresh, but expected to “…dry out and become more complex with rustic notes of leather and earth” with age.
On the day it was delightfully classy start to proceedings, with the advertised earth and leather propped up against a fruitiness which opened up and became more complex a little while after decanting.
“Subtle and aromatic” The Jesuit
“Held its malt body really well” Gingerbeardyman
“Hints of sherried honey and spice” Greasylightbulb
It was enjoyed by Malice who normally finds saisons hard to like; and also Troughboy even though he considered his tastebuds to be unenlightened despite all the practise they were getting. It was superbly well matched to a round of Tenara ashed goats cheese from Kaikoura which the Lady Piemaker had kindly provided
This very vintage won Best beer of 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. We gave it 7/10 Man Points (see here for no real explanation at all), though we scored all beers at the end of the tasting which leads to something akin to curved grading.
2. Chimay Bleue/Grand Reserve (9% ABV)
Iconic strong Belgian ale from 2012. Quite a lot of information and opinions are available in the internet bout the ageing of this and other Trappist beers. Although exact character will vary with vintage, the size of bottle, and the way it is stored. As a crude rule, 3-4 years in bottle appears to be considered a peak time. It’s intricacies on the palate left the Thirsties grasping for likenesses
“Raspberryish” Lady Piemaker
“Fruit preserve on burnt toast” Gingerbeardyman
“It’s Christmas cakey” Lady Piemaker
Conversation then turned tangentially to how hipsters were now drinking the iconic Scottish budget fighting juice Buckfast, the origin of the hipster culture, and merits of artisanal firewood.
(8 Man Points)
3. Invercargill Brewery Pitch Black Imperial Stout (9% ABV)
Batch barrel aged in central Otago Pinot Noir barrels for 3 months, then left to its own devices in Greasy’s garage for 3 years. Invercargill say it “….will only improve with age”. Despite an erratic supply this far North (unlike a few years ago when we could get our hands on an extended range) Invercargill brewery are still warmly regarded by several of the Thirsties. Would age legitimise that fondness or highlight the erraticism? Well with minimal carbonation it poured an enticing deep walnut tinge and….
“coffee and blackberry” The Jesuit
“ a good dessert evening beer, great with ice cream” Lady Piemaker “…and chocolate”
Though its impossible to know, we felt it would risk getting a bit flabby with more time, so were happy to revel in it’s gorgeousness for now
(9 Man Points)
4. 8 Wired the Sultan (10% ABV)
This sultana-containing Quadrupel was the originator of the stash for ageing. It was picked up at Wellington’s Beervana festival in 2011 or 2012; memory failing me slightly. However I do remember the distinct feeling that it was a) amazing, and b) could be even more so. Hence putting it away and trying harder not to drink it than I normally try not to drink things. The bottle blurb states it would continue to develop for 3-4 years.
“..has a tartness to it” The Jesuit
“This is like a beer you drink just by itself, you don’t need food with it” Lady Piemaker
It was agreed that we’d like to have another one, which was a problem since sadly it appears to be discontinued by 8 Wired. This is an inherent risk in ageing beers, in small volume anyway. When you get it right, and find yourself relaxing in the glow of a decadent complex beer at its peak, the feeling risks being tinged with the regret of not buying and keeping more at the time.
(8.5 Man Points)
5. Liberty Brewing Renall’s Towards Muriwai (11% ABV)
You may have notice that the proceedings have gone Belgian – stout – Belgian – stout, turns out it’s not easy to order this selection. I went with anticipated size and body rather than beer type (then stuck the freak at the end…). Other suggestions would be welcomed though!
Anyway: back to Liberty. Described as a “Black Forest Stout” this single batch from 2012 contains a hefty dose of sour morello cherries. It was made for Brewers Guild New Zealand awards, and won a medal. However it really has its roots in a much more personal symbolism. It commemorates Liberty Brewing’s Joe and Chistina Wood’s 12 years of marriage. Apparently they were aiming for 12% ABV, but missed. I hope that fact isn’t symbolic of anything. Muriwai was a special place in their youth and the beautiful label was by an art teacher from the college they met at. It really was a bottle with sophisticated elegance. I remembered thinking it as a good end-of-night beer originally, but our commentary suggests that the effects of time may have shifted its optimum place in one’s daily routine.
“A beer for breakfast” Lady Piemaker “..like coffee”
“Good with porridge and brown sugar” The Jesuit
Compared with the rest of the night’s dancecard it didn’t have as much depth or complexity of flavour. But we did wonder what it would be like with even more age. Since it was my last bottle, the regret firmly took hold.
7/10 Man Points
See more by the label’s artist Sarah McBeath at http://www.bakedbean.co.nz/
6. Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken’s ale (10.2%)
This American dark barley wine is the oldest of the bunch. Crafted in 2010 as one of four commemorative and collaborative brews to celebrate Sierra Nevada’s 30th anniversary. This one was a collaboration with Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing who has been described as the first American microbrewer. It is said that… “this robust ale should age gracefully for years”. Today we could prove it.
“That’s an incredibly great beer… just the balance between all the elements” Gingerbeardyman
“I once drank a bottle of this on my own, I was very swirly” The Jesuit
(at the 65 IBUs) “oh no, it’s not bitter, at least I don’t think it is bitter” Lady Piemaker
“Layers of liquid liquorice” Greasylightbulb
“..it has a serial moreishness” the ever quotable Gingerbeardyman
“I don’t see how it could get any better” Greasylightbulb
(9.5 Man Points)
7. De Molen Raad & Daad (6.5% ABV)
Not much could be researched about this oak aged sour from 2013. Brouwerij De Molen themselves had no mention of it on their website. There’s a discussion on Ratebeer.com about how the bottle was made differently to the draught. Google translates the name as possibly meaning council and deed. Mysterious. Very different style to the other beers, as apparent in the atmosphere created by the swirling glasses.
“oh no” Troughboy’s prospect
“…a felonious aroma” The Jesuit
“Genuinely embodies horse saddle sweat” Greasylightbulb
“Sweet and sour acidity” Troughboy
“It has candy to it” Lady Piemaker
Scoring was divisive, but averaged out at 6/10
Well what could we conclude from the evening? Apart from wishing I’d saved the Sierra Nevada for last. Exploring the effects of ageing would be much more successfully achieved if we had tried aged beers alongside their more youthful versions. Some American brewers are now branding some of their range as “vertical beers” for this express purpose. Unfortunately some of our brews were batches never again repeated, denying us that opportunity. But we can safely say that this selection was aged and it was delicious. Relying on our memories somewhat, they were generally felt to be more complex and interesting than they had been originally. I’ve decided imperial stouts and barley wines are the ones to put aside for me, so I’m off to find some more to fill that new hole in the garage.