One of the primary facets of the beer geek culture–as opposed to wine, whisky, or toilet hooch geeks–is the stocking of bottles for aging. See, beer evolves as it sits around in the bottle. Some age quite well, some not so well, and a few can yield interesting, unsettling results.
It’s difficult for me to keep stuff around for this long because A) I don’t have a lot of money, and can’t really afford to buy large quantities the usually top-shelf brews that age especially well, and B) I’m impatient. I’ve tasted aged beers before, and been pretty blown away by some: a nine-year-old Thomas Hardy ale and a four-year-old Old Rasputin imperial stout were highlights.
It’s just a coincidence that, in past two nights, we drank two beers that are perfect for aging: Scuttlebutt Old No. 1 Barleywine, and New Glarus Thumbprint Enigma. The former is nearly four years old, the latter is extremely fresh. Eventually we hope to blog about tasting different vintages of the same beer side by side, but this’ll do until we have the capital and the cabinet space.
So, there’s a story behind this one.
Michelle bought this for us almost a year ago during a trip to Madison, just a day or so after I proposed to her. It was $12.99 for a single 12 oz. bottle, and I’d like to thank her for riding the post-proposal high for so long.
It was the last one at Brennan’s, a 2009 bottle. I’d never heard of Scuttlebutt before, and I’m not sure that they have much in the way of distribution. Rate Beer lists the bottling, tap availability, and distribution as “unknown” which is about as sinister as you can get with beer.
We did well in aging it for about another year, but last night was chilly, stormy, and it just felt right. After a few minutes in the fridge to lightly chill, we poured it up.
It’s a barrel-aged beer, so one of the first notes you get is a big oaky vanilla character. This thing has had nearly four years to mellow and the bourbon notes are still pretty prominent, so I can’t imagine what it must have smelled like when it was first bottled. There’s big plum, raisin, and apricot notes, expected in a barleywine, but this one had a nice caramel presence, and even a hint of chocolate, with a sharp hop bitterness on the finish. At 13.3% ABV, there’s almost no heat, which, even after four years in the bottle, is impressive.
So, verdict. Not the best we’ve had–Three Floyds Behemoth or Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine probably takes it–but definitely a great surprise. The brewery is based in Everett, Washington, but some of their stuff obviously makes it halfway across the country. Give it a shot, if you don’t mind the price tag.
Now this…this, I’m excited about.
Anytime New Glarus puts out a new seasonal or Thumbprint–their limited run series–is cause for celebration. This year they’ve kept it reasonably simple, releasing a barleywine, a saison, and a cherry stout that was really more of a cherry brown ale. They were all great. But this is something of an event. New Glarus brewed Enigma on two other occasions only, in 2006 and 2010. It’s a sour wild ale, which means it was spontaneously fermented with random, wild yeast strains. To further play up the moniker, the brewers released it with little warning. It just showed up on shelves last night, magically.
I love sour ales. They’re an interesting beer to age, because they tend to be rather low in alcohol (5-7% or so); higher booze content typically helps stuff like imperial stouts and old ales develop in the bottle. Here, the wild yeast strain does the work. The best ones typically come from Belgium, but some American brewers are really starting to step it up; New Belgium’s La Folie is a ridiculously good beer, and this one ain’t too shabby either. Brilliantly red with an off-pink head, the nose on Enigma is just rife with tart cherries, a bit of Granny Smith apple, and a touch of vinegar. Bracingly sour only up front, it mellows out into tart-sweet cherry, along with hints of vanilla from the oak vat.
We’ve got two bottles sitting in our cabinet, alongside a New Glarus R & D Ale that we’re holding onto till the wedding, and we’re determined to make them last. Unless it rains again.