Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Dilemma (and test) of Aging Beer: A "Scientific" Approach

Last night, some fellow beer geeks and I gathered for a beer tasting. Tastings aren't really uncommon, but this one had two aspects that made it boarder line unique.  One was the return of a beer geek to beer geek-dom. See, he committed himself to family, house and job for several years. The last time I drank with him was at his new house, at the time with quite an unfinished basement and his beer collection/cellar was a pile of boxes. Fast forward to last night, and the basement served quite well, equipped with a small fridge, couch, tables....all the things needed for a beer tasting.

Which brings us to the other aspect: the verticals.  Initially, this tasting's aim was to try the same beers, aged for the same amount of time, but in different "formats".  For example, we not only had most of the Stone Vertical Epic brews, but we had two of each.  For each set, one had been aged in cold refrigerators and the other aged at cellar temperatures or wine fridges. The idea was to compare and contrast the affects of these different aging techniques. Each of us (there were 8) got two pours from each Vertical year--one pour from the refrigerator aged, and one from the cellar aged version.  Pure science, of course.

(The Stones)

And it went...interestingly.  Not many of us were fans of these beers, refrigerated or not.  Probably because few, or none, of them were meant to be aged at all. But, that wasn't a requirement for this experiment (yeah, like we thought this up way back in 2003).

Prior to tasting, we had a little bit of a debate as to which version (fridge or cellar) would be better, or at the least, would there be any difference.  There was some disagreement, and the results were conclusive.  Cellared beer aged more rapidly than fridge beer across the board.  Also across the board, the beers did not hold up to even fridge aging.   Most were oxygenated and faded. We concluded that aging beers is, for the most part, overrated.  Two years was the common maximum duration to age a beer (a beer that can be aged), with 5 years being the extreme.

...But that wasn't all.  The unique aspect of this tasting was the other vertical tasting:
The Dark Lord (2005-2013)

That's a lot of strong beer right there, folks.  But, for science, we endured. And this vertical pretty much convinced us that aging is not all that great for many beers, eve the Lord.  While 2005 had a nice roasty characteristic, it was more of a result from oxygenation than the beer itself.  The 2006, 2007 and 2008 were not very good, while 2011 was agreed on to be the best of the bunch.  Most Dark Lords were aged at cellar temps as they were gathered from various sources.
A shorter vertical was the night cap:  Bourbon County Brand Stout (2007-2008)

So with the verticals and science concluded we had more beers to drink:
Midnight Sun's Monk's Mistress (oak aged)
Beatification batch 008
Supplication batch 002
Thomas Hardy's Ale 1993
Sophie Paradisi
Backcountry SaiZin
The Bruery Cuir
Cantillon Cuvée Des Champions
....and several homebrews

Quite the night!