Monthly Archives: February 2015

Aging beer can be a gamble; some are winners, others are losers

By Alan J. Wax

Aging beers. We hear so much about it these days.

Brewers often encourage their customers to age their products and nary a day goes by when you don’t see some query on a beer drinker’s forum about the age worthiness of a just-purchased brew.

I’ve been aging beers for years. On purpose – and accidentally. Unable to keep up with many newly acquired beers, I let some sit away forgotten until rediscovered. Others, I’ve boxed and carried to the cellar intended for aging in the cool temperatures and darkness.

Recently, I came upon a number of brews that I had put aside and largely had forgotten. Wondering how they might taste, I pulled them out for a tasting with several open-minded, beer-loving friends.

The results, needless to say, were interesting. The beers, ranging in age from a half-dozen years to almost 25 years, had aged differently. Some gracefully; others less so.

This motley collection included English and Belgian beers of strength as well as a few American craft brews.

My notes from that tasting:

CourageCourage Russian Imperial Stout (2011) by Charles Wells Brewery, England. 10% abv. Its espresso color was intact, the head mocha and a nose that suggested alcohol. On the palate there were notes of licorice and molasses and an extraordinarily dry finish. 3/5.

Paradox Isle of Aran. Brew Dog, Scotland. Imperial stout. 10% abv. No date, but likely purchased in 2010. Black brown in hue with a roasty nose. Low carbonation. Malty. 2/5.

Paradox Smokehead (2010). Brewdog, Scotland. Smoked imperial stout.10% abv. Deep brown in hue with pronounced, tar, ashtray aroma. Malty sweetness on the palate. Dry finish. 2½/5.

Harny's 1990Thomas Hardy’s Ale (1990). Eldridge Pope, England. Old ale. 11.7% abv. Meant to be aged, but perhaps, too long at almost 25 years. More of a thin malt syrup lacking carbonation. Mild hints of fruit. Big oaky notes. Super dry. 3/5.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale (2008). Hanlon’s Brewing, England. Old ale. 11.9% abv.
Deep copper hue with oak and caramel on the nose. On the palate notes of orange peel, caramel and nuts. 4/5.

Harvest Ale (1991). JW Lees & Co., England. English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Brown hue. The nose suggests a musty, damp basement while on the palate there are hints of bitter chocolate, oak and dried figs. 3/5.

Harvest Ale 2003Harvest Ale (2003). JW Lees & Co., England; English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Murky brown and lacking in carbonation. Sweet sherry notes, caramel and oak. 3/5.

Vintage Ale (2006). Fuller, Smith & Turner, England. Old ale. 8.5% abv. One that did not age well. Copper hue, off white head, Notes of wet cardboard and licorice with an unpleasant bitter finish. 1½/5.

Triple (2001). Browerij St. Bernadus. Belgium. Tripel. 8% abv. Golden with a white head. Disappoints with notes of cardboard and candy sugar. 2/5.

Black Choco StoutBlack Chocolate Stout (2002). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Chocolate on the nose and hints of wine on the palate. Oily. 2½/5.

Black Chocolate Stout (2009). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Roasted malt on the nose, bit also hints of cardboard. A tad fizzy. Nutty palate. A recent purchase, suggesting poor retail storage. 2/5.

Monster Ale (2000). Brooklyn Brewery, American Barleywine. 10.1% abv. Deep copper hue with the barest signs of carbonation. Sherry and paint thinner notes. Definitely over the hill. ½/5.

CelebrationCelebration Ale (1996). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American IPA. 6.8% abv. Deep copper hue. Totally lacking a head. On the nose, notes of soy sauce. Hints of cardboard. Unpleasant, strong bitter finish. 1/5.

Bigfoot (2001). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American barleywine. 9.6% abv. Deep copper color. No head. Wet cardboard nose. Hints of sweetness toward the end that suddenly becomes extraordinarily bitter. Definitely past its prime. ½/5.

Carnegie Porter (1997). Carlsberg Sverige. Sweden. Baltic porter. 5.5% abv. Dark brown with a nose that suggests a nutty Oloroso sherry. Thin and lacking in carbonation. 1/5.

Our Special Ale (2000). Anchor Brewing Co. Spiced winter warmer. Unknown abv. No spice flavors, aromas evident. Medicinal and bitter. ½/1.

Choco BockSamuel Adams Chocolate Bock (2008). Boston Beer Co. Bock. 6.8% abv. Deep brown. Soy sauce nose. Low carbonation. Chocolate and caramel notes. Considering the low alcohol, it’s held up well. Stored in original wood box. 2½/5.

If you want to age your beer, remember these few simple things. Experiment by tasting your aging beer after six months—if it’s good, keep going, if not drink it immediately. Age them in a cool (55F) dark place, like a basement. Expect flavors to change; some fade, others become more pronounced. High alcohol beers and those with dark malts age best. Hoppy brews lose their hop character.

How have your aging brews tasted?

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A wysgi to toast Wales’ patron saint

Penderyn USA 300dpiBy Alan J. Wax

Quick, name a Celtic saint celebrated in March.

Bet you picked St. Patrick.

Ever hear of St. David, the patron saint of Wales? For centuries, March 1 has been a national festival day in Wales, commemorating St. David as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Outside of Wales, the day is only celebrated by Welsh societies with dinners, parties, and recitals.

According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia  in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer – only water – while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.

Given St. David’s asceticism, we might consider toasting him a sacrilegious act. But what the heck, we’re always looking for a reason to imbibe and what could be a better libation for this day than Penderyn single malt wysgi, the only malt whisky distilled in Wales.

It’s a relatively new product. Whisky making largely disappeared from Wales, which like other Celtic lands had a rich whisky history, in the last part of 19th Century. Then along came the Welsh Whisky Co.,  which located its Penderyn distiller in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000. It was the first distillery in the country in more than a hundred years. Penderyn released its first distilled product on St. David’s Day in 2004.

The distiller, which produces just one barrel a day, boasts that it draws water exclusively from a well that taps the carboniferous limestone deep below the distillery. It also attributed its house style derives to the use of two types of casks. For the initial maturation, the distillery uses hand-selected Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Later, the wysgi is transferred to Portuguese barriques that previously nurtured Madeira wine. Each cask is closely watched and regularly nosed until it has reached the standard of the distiller’s consulting master distiller, Jim Swan, a global authority on wood management.

The whisky carries no age statement, but in a 2008 post on the Whiskey Advocate’s blog, Penderyn’s Ed Minning stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.

Penderyn’s still, the company claims, is unlike any other: a single copper-pot still invented by Dr. David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The still removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot. This is how Penderyn starts to differentiate itself from traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies. It’s bottled at 46 percent ABV or 92 proof.

Penderyn whisky starts out with an 8 percent ABV barley wash supplied by brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff, which has been around since 1882 and is considered Wales’s premier private brewery.

The whisky’s garnered a few awards including winner of the Best World Whisky Gold Medal at the 2012 & 2013 International Whisky Competition and gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge for Best Cask finish whisky.

So, how’s it taste? It’s a light golden spirit with, not surprisingly, a big alcoholic bite from the 46% ABV. The nose suggests creamy toffee. On the palate I picked up notes of pears, mangoes and vanilla along with a suggestion of sweetness. The finish, albeit, is on the short side. I’d rate it 3/5.

Nevertheless, it’s a unique spirit and once malt fanciers ought to try. St. David’s Day, as we said, could be the perfect time.

 

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