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?

4 Comments

Filed under Taps - Beer

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

  1. great article it’s always fun to crack open some old stuff. The only thing i would add is to remember when aging always store the bottles upright.Unlike wine the beer should never touch the cork or the cap.

  2. Use only beers of 9% alcolhol or higher for your experiment, lower than that
    they may not preserve aswell.
    IPA’s will loose their hoppy character after 2 years
    The darker beers will often turn port-like

  3. We recommend aging beers upright in a controlled environment like a Vinotemp cooler. Set the temperature appropriate for the style.

    We recently BrewViewed a 7-year (2007) bottle of Victory Brewing Company’s V12 Quadrupel, and did a side-by side tasting of that bottle with a 2014 version. The taste differences were outstanding!

    Read more here: https://belgianbeerjournal.wordpress.com/beerreviews/brewviews-on-victory-brewing-co-vtwelve-quadrupel-2007-and-2014-vintages/

  4. RaBu

    I just had a Thomas Hardy v 1990. #E11109. Today is 2/1/18 so that makes it what, 28 or so years old? This one was fantastic, I would give it 4/5. I think I lucked out and got one that had been properly stored.

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