Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Ageing (dis)tastefully

I've just picked up online a cheap secondhand copy of Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson. 

The book includes includes the basics of conditioning beer for months, or even years, at home, from the right environment in which to store it (ideally a deep cellar, but failing that somewhere cool and dark where sunlight or rising temperatures aren't going to affect the taste of your beers) and the beer styles that age best (high in alcohol, dark and bottle-conditioned, so strong ales, imperial stouts, Belgian lambics and sour brown ales). 

The author concedes that, after a revelatory moment sipping a three year old bottle of Duvel, his first attempts at ageing were a disaster, and that many beers still taste best fresh, including IPAs (although Worthington's White Shield is noticeably different at varying stages of its development and, as David Hughes says in his book A Bottle of Guinness, Please, any bottle-conditioned beer is going to undergo changes over time, both good and bad - that natural variability is part of the experience). He also notes that other beers will never taste right until a few years in the cellar have knocked the rough edges off them, citing Thomas Hardy's strong ale (having only drunk it young, I concur).

My main problem with ageing bottled beers - whether Fuller's Imperial Stout or Vintage Ale, Courage Russian Imperial Stout, White Shield or Duvel - is that having bought them I invariably want to drink them, and the longest I've managed to keep my hands off them is a few months before Christmas and New Year, when I've raided my stash until the cupboard is bare (I suppose I need to misplace one and then find it a decade later). The other thing is that, as with fine wine, you really need a century or so to bring out some of the deeper flavours in these beers.

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