Thursday, March 28, 2013

Barleywine and Old Ales: Age has its privilages

My friend Dave was kind enough to invite me to participate in a small group beer tasting over the past weekend.  He has quite the cellar of old beers that were hoarded up before the birth of his sons, and was in need of help to clear them out.  Sj and I were more than happy to help him out with this serious problem.  It was a very relaxed and chill atmosphere out on Dave and Sarah's sun-room, with a bunch of our oldest JAB members in attendance...quite reminiscent of when our club was small enough to be able to all fit in my gazebo for meetings!  Some of the guys (Kent, JD, and Kramer) we don't get to see much these days and it was a great excuse to hang out again.

We started out with some smaller bottles, knowing that they wouldn't spread as far.  The first was a tiny little can of barleywine from 21st Amendment that looked a bit too much like an energy drink (they are bottled at Cold Spring where they make many of those...)  A Rampant IPA and a huge bottle of 2008 Chimay Blue soon followed, though we didn't finish off that mammoth bottle until later.

The next step was a vertical tasting of Fuller's Vintage Ale with Dave supplying the 1998, 1999 and 2000, and myself contributing a 2008 vintage Christmas present.  This is classified as an old ale and each recipe differs somewhat.  I believe that 1997 was the first year they made this beer so getting to try these 15-17 year old beers was quite a treat.  The 1998 had very little carbonation, but a lot of raisiny sweetness.  The 1999 was a bit more carbonated and was my personal favorite.  Amazing to age that long and still be this drinkable!  The 2000 was also very good, but a bit lighter to me.  The 2008 foamed out of the top and had a subtle twang to it that may have been a minor infection with wild yeast.  Not too sour considering its age though.

Then the high point of the evening: a Thomas Hardy vertical.  Considered by most to be the quintessential English Barleywine, Eldridge Pope Brewery started producing these back in 1968.  1999 marked the final production at that brewery and thereafter the beer was brewed at O'Hanlan from 2003-2008.  Since then the beer has been gone, but a recent website attests that the beer will be brewed again soon.  Thanks to Dave and Kent we were able to try the 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2007 vintages.  Sarah suggested that we tell each other about big events in our lives from those years and this was a fun way to get to know more about each other, as well as to put some perspective on just how long these beers had been lurking in Dave's cellar.  The oldest was 18 years old!  In 1995 I was just barely legal to drink and didn't care much for beer in the first place.  That one had no carbonation and Jon pointed out that it tasted like a liquid Tootsie Roll.  1996 had more carbonation and I believe it was my favorite of the bunch.  By the 2007 batch the carbonation was better, and really had a lot of character.  None of them were undrinkable and most very good, which is pretty amazing considering their age. 

We topped off the afternoon with amazing pulled pork sandwiches (which I certainly needed after all those barleywines.)  Dave pulled a 2008 growler of Town Hall's Twisted Reality Barleywine out for dessert.  I am shocked at how well the beer held up considering most growlers lose carbonation in a week or so.  That is a testament to the quality of Town Hall's brewing and bottling technique.  Chris G. was with us and was in contact with Hoops via text, as well as with one of the Maltsters from Simpson's who supply grain for most of those beers we tried.  Kind of cool to have a closer connection to the beer you are trying. 

This was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon and a good excuse to see some old friends.  And I do mean OLD!  I might have glimpsed quite a few other ancient cobwebbed and nitre-crusted bottles lurking in Dave's cellar...  Perhaps we will try these one day in the far future along with some current barleywines and reminisce about the good old 2010's.

Have any of you readers had any great aged beers that we should be cellaring?

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