What's so fascinating about old beer?
I can trace my interest in Vintage Beer back to an article written in The Readers Digest some time back in the late 60's, an odd place I know but it was something that caught my eye at the time and was quickly forgotten. Now I don't know where the magazine came from and I can't remember how old the edition was or even why I'd picked it up, but the article that said you could lay some beers down and that they would improve with age, just like fine Wine. And somehow that article was laid down in my memory to surface a few years later.
I was a young beer drinker just getting my taste for beer and being spoilt for choice, the pubs I'd started to visit were a mix of Robinsons, Wilsons, Hydes, Burtonwood, Ansells, Joseph Holt, Boddingtons and when I went to University I swiftly added Tetley's, Webster's, Timothy Taylor and Theakston, and that was after discovering the magnificent Barnsley Bitter whilst on an Industrial placement in Peterborough.
Bottled beer was something I rarely drank but, possibly taking the lead from my father, I enjoyed the odd bottle of Barley Wine. Visits home always meant a trip to The Hatters
with the fearsome Landlady Sadie, and a few pints of the best kept Robinsons you could find. In the Winter months a Pin of Old Tom would be put on the bar and the traditional final beer was a pint of Best Bitter followed by a nip of Old Tom. Bells started ringing one evening when out of the depths of my memory came that Readers Digest article, yes Old Tom was definitely one of the beers mentioned. Old Tom could, the article had informed me, be kept for 5, 10, 15 or possibly 20 years. But what were the others? Courage Russian Imperial Stout, Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy Ale, slowly they came back to me and I started to buy them when I could. Most strong bottle conditioned beers can improve with age, some need only a couple of years whilst others seem to be slow burners steadily changing, and improving, over many years.
No journey back home was complete without adding a few more bottles of Old Tom, and yes it comfortably aged for five years, and ten years but was a bit ropey at fifteen. I only wish I'd been able to afford to buy more of the Thomas Hardy when it was relatively easy to find, and sadly the Courage Russian Imperial Stout disappeared all too soon (but shortly to make a comeback on these shores).
The worst thing you can do to a beer that you intend to lay down is mistreat it, it has to be looked after and the best place for it is in a cellar. I've been lucky, or maybe I planned it that way, but each house I've lived in for the past thirty odd years has had a cellar and the beers have beer put away and forgotten.
Having a Vintage Beer is a treat, it's something I savour and that I try to share, partaking in a Vertical Tasting is an experience that should not be missed. My first Vertical tasting was one of the tutored tastings at GBBF back in 2006, John Keeling presented ten years of Fuller's Vintage Ale. Although I'd organised a few tutored tastings at GBBF this was the first I'd actually joined in with and it was glorious. In 2009 I tried to replicate the tasting with the help of friends on Bières Sans Frontières, we were missing just one year!
The opportunity to taste year against year enables the changes to be tracked, whether they be subtle or dramatic, but a single tasting can also be satisfying when you find that magic bottle. I'll admit there have been some disappointments when oxidation has ruined a beer resulting in a drain pour. Then there are those beers that seem to improve, then decline only to come storming back a couple of years later, something that one gets used to. But it's not just bottle conditioned beers that can be laid down, Lees Vintage Harvest Ale is probably the widest available and should not be drunk until at least three years old.
In the cellar is an unopened case containing six bottles of Whitbread Celebration Ale, there's a sheet of A4 in there on which Michael Jackson said this beer can be laid down for twenty years. It's twenty years old this year so it's accompanying me down to GBBF where I'm sure there will be a few people who will be keen to sample it.
It takes patience to keep a beer so long and it's time now to make inroads into the stash in the cellar, but where to begin? For so long I've limited my consumption of these fine beers, I'm down to my last three bottles of Courage RIS, a dozen or so original Thomas Hardy. Once they're gone that's it, I can't get them back and I'll be sad to see them go. But I've steadily built a collection of the more easily accessible Vintage Ales from Fuller's and Lee's so I'll be OK for a good few years. But I won't stop adding to the collection, but it may, just may, start to shrink.
I know I'm not alone in having a fascination with the effect of age on beer and I'd encourage anyone with the patience to think ahead, you may be in for a real treat in five or ten years time.
And now for the continuing guess the Brewer slot, still no responses for the second in the series so it looks like nobody wants any free beer at GBBF!
Which Brewer do you admire...?
Eric Toft, Schonrahmer Brauerei, Petting, Bavaria.
Favourite British Brewery...?
Harveys…if anyone has perfected Tradition, they have…hats off to Miles Jenner.
Favourite overseas Brewery...?
Schneider, Sierra Nevada…building huge breweries based on State of the Art technology and maximum taste and flavor in the beer
What's the next big thing...?
Craft Keg Beer
If you weren't a brewer you'd be a...?
Does consistency of flavour matter...?
its everything in beer…it enables you to build a strong bond with the consumer who is keen to learn and enjoy more
Michael Jackson always denied that he had a favourite beer, but said if you asked him wha8 his final beer would be as he faced the firing squad it would be...?
a mature Orval
And what would your final beer be...?
If it were possible, which Brewery/Brewer would you consider doing a collaboration beer with...?
Hans Peter Drechsler at Schneider..
If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring Brewer it would be...?
Air is the enemy of great beer.
And a few more personal questions;
What do you do to relax...?
golf…and watch the weather..some say at the same time.
Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead
TV, Cinema, Concert or Theatre...?
Cinema…..or cricket on TV!
Favourite holiday destination...?
Syria..seriously, nicest people I have ever met travelling…not now though, what a international outrage.
So, if you think you know who the Brewer is just add a comment and maybe you'll be getting a free beer at GBBF.
Did I mention the free beer?