Most people think that wine is meant to be aged, while beer should always be consumed fresh. It isn’t quite that simple. It’s true that many wines will improve with age, but others should be drunk as soon as possible. And while most beer is at its peak the day it’s bottled, there are age-worthy beers that can become more interesting with time.
First let’s talk about beer that you should never age. A pilsner, with its clean crisp taste, could develop a readily apparent off-taste as it ages. An IPA probably won’t get an unpleasant taste, but the vibrant hop character will quickly fade. And since the pronounced hop taste is the main point of an IPA, time can turn a delicious IPA into a bland and unremarkable pint.
So, what type of beer might be worth aging? There are three rules for beers that will age, known as “the S’s”, which are:
- Strong beer, generally with more than 8% ABV
- Sour beer, including Lambic ales
- Smoked beer with smoked malts, or other complex flavours
You can also look for beers that are bottle conditioned, or bottled with live yeast, as this will allow the beer to continue to ferment over time. adding to the complexity.
Now let’s pour a flight and get tasting.
We started with a beer that should not be aged – Walkin’ on Sunshine from Brew Revolution. The first sample (on the far right) was on draft, from a batch that finished brewing just last week. This is a NEIPA style, and true to form it is very hazy in the glass. John (the pilot) described it as “overcast”. The colour was like fresh apricots. The taste evoked stone fruit, including apricot and peaches, along with navel oranges. Although this beer only has 6 IBU, there was a slight “grapefruit rind” bitterness in the aftertaste giving it a refreshing balanced finish. It’s easy to see why this is such a favourite.
John’s take: Give me a minute … I think of Orange Fanta. This takes me back to my youth.
Next we tasted the exact same beer, but this time a can from a batch brewed 2 or 3 months ago. This time, the beer was pale yellow, with only a very slight haze, almost looking like condensation on the glass. You could still smell apricots, but more apricot pits than the fruit. The taste had the same elements as the fresh sample, but everything was very subdued. This is clearly a beer that is meant to be drunk as young as possible.
John’s take: Everything flattened out, and the alcohol came to the top.
And now, for a beer that has the potential to age.
Our second beer was Whoa Blackberry (Bam-a-lam) Imperial IPA. This beer is age-worthy with its alcohol content of 10% ABV, even though it’s an IPA. We started with this year’s anniversary release, which was quite hazy and the colour of rose hips (or perhaps, power steering fluid). The nose was reminiscent of cooked berries – warm blueberry pie, blackberry jam on toast, or a raspberry tart. The taste was very dry, and showed tart fruit on the tongue (like a tart blackberry jam) along with hints of licorice.
John’s take: …this is really good. I’m digging it.
We finished with a sample of Whoa Blackberry that has been aging in the bottle for about 2 1/2 years. This beer looked like cognac or amaretto in the glass – mahogany colour and crystal clear. The aroma was rich and complex with currents, dried fruit, almonds and maraschino cherries. And alcohol – there was no mistaking the high alcohol content here. It coated your mouth with sweet (toffee) and tart (rhubarb) flavours. You almost thought you were drinking a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.
Wes’ take: Two different beers in the same sip. It starts as toffee, and then at some point it stops, and becomes a lingering alcohol dryness.
John’s take: Not my favourite.
And that is probably the perfect message to take from this tasting. Some beers can develop intriguing flavours as they age, but they won’t be to everyone’s taste.
… and drink your Walkin’ On Sunshine while it’s fresh!