Oh good lord. Do I really have to start work on Monday? Please say it isn’t so. However, I did pick up my new company truck today. So now that I am a driver again I figured the best thing to do was to have a drink. A couple months ago a friend brought this Firestone Walker 10th Anniversary Ale as a gift when he visited. What a nice friend! It seemed fitting to open it and write about it for a couple reasons. The first, and simplest reason is that I am running a little low on wine. GASP! I know. I go through alternating buying and drinking modes. Sometimes I am buying bottles like crazy and I realize I am totally broke and better take it easy and start drinking some of my loot. But, apparently I have been drinking for too long because I only have a handful of bottles of wine left. Which brings me to point #2 which is cellaring, or aging beer/wine, and this beer being almost 8 years old is a perfect opportunity to discuss that.
First, let’s talk about this beer. Firestone released their 17th anniversary ale last November. This is the 10th. Which means it is OLD. Especially for a beer. This may be a foreign concept for beer to some of my strictly wine-drinking readers, but I promise these ales are built for aging. The concept of aging beer is actually so prevalent that many breweries are putting “enjoy AFTER” dates on their bottles in contrast to the major domestic beers (Bud, Coors and the like) putting either the “born on” or “enjoy by” dates on their cans/bottles. Firestone Walker actually makes their anniversary ales by blending lots of some of their specialty beers produced throughout the year and then barrel aging it. The blending composition is actually conducted by a team of sommeliers to get the right characters not only for a delicious beer but also for an age-able beer. Firestone also has a winery, so borrowing from that industry has produced ales that keep beer snobs salivating all year waiting for the next anniversary ale to come out. This beer has incredible notes of espresso and molasses that are rounded out by all the barrel notes that come in from the vanilla and caramel. It has a rich and enveloping taste and mouthfeel but it isn’t totally overpowering given that it has had the better part of a decade to mellow. Just like wine generally needs acid to age properly (I realize this is a horrible oversimplification), beer needs not only acid but alcohol. This stuff checks in at a hefty 12% ABV. I can see how this stuff would have been mind-blowing in about 2008. But that brings me to my next point…
Don’t smoke crack. No, I’m kidding. I mean, don’t, but that is a movie reference (double points if you get it). Anyway, moving on. My next point is actually about cellaring. Cellaring is great if you have the patience and the wallet for it. I, in truth, have neither of those. A while back THE DRUNKEN CYCLIST who is a fantastic blogger you should all follow, had a rant about how wineries will release their library wines above what the original list price was and you basically pay to have them cellar it and he was very upset and thinks it is a rip off. Well my friend, those price increases are for someone like me. I have no patience. Mostly because my wallet doesn’t really allow me to buy a ton of wine or beer that I can afford to ignore for months or years. I realize that I end up paying more later on for the same wine but I have realized that my consumption is currently greater than or equal to my purchasing, which does not lend itself well to being able to buy wine/beer that you will not drink. In this case, a friend cellared it and gifted it. But, as with anything, you can go too far and eventually whatever you are trying to make better, will start to die. I think, unfortunately, that is what happened here. For the record, said friend was aware of this when he gifted it. This beer still has all its wonderful back end malty qualities and the alcohol has mellowed to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore which makes it quite enjoyable to drink, but it has nearly no carbonation left in it which changes the originally intended flavor profile. Also, the top-end hop notes, which tend to get lost in the bourbon barrel aging process anyway, are completely gone in this bottle. It’s sad because it really needs that balance since the dark flavors are so strong. It ends up being a syrupy, one-dimensional taste. Granted that that dimension is delicious. I just wish it had all the complexity that the blend, barrel aging, and cellaring originally gave it. I haven’t personally tasted a beer that benefitted from more than 2 years of cellaring. I have heard myth and rumor that there are some that do but to me that have always tasted so blah.
Just like wine will eventually lose its bright, fruit flavors when it begins to decline, beer loses its front end flavors of hops and all the associated hop flavors. There is a middle ground to be found amongst the heat of the alcohol, the acid of the hops, and the richness of the malt that can be found when aging a beer and it certainly depends on how the beer is structured to begin with, but because many beers that are age-worthy borrow their processes from wine, people think the older the better. This is a common misconception with wine and by extension, in this case, beer. It isn’t always better just because it is older. That doesn’t, however, prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this beer for what it is and raising a toast to the friend that gave it to me. I just weep for what I know it could have been. I finally understand how my mother feels about me. So much potential wasted.
Don’t panic. Cellaring is still a great idea. I just can’t do it. I wish I could because you end up getting really fantastic stuff for bargains. Self-control is a gift I have yet to receive. Just make sure you check the winemaker/brewers notes and see what they recommend. Overdoing it can really make you sad and kill your investment not only of money but more importantly time.