Hey gang, it’s been a long time since you last heard from me and Adam has been on my case to get another post up. On what? I’ve been a little silent on the brewery visits and I’ve been home brewing a bit lately, but I’ve mostly been spending time setting up my home 3 tap Keezer (an old freezer converted to a Kegerator). Between work and enjoying a new beer or two, I’ve been all but silent. But that, my friends, that will change for 2015.
I’ve decided to bring something that I’m super geeky about to you, and that is cellared or “cellerable” beers. I’m talking the high gravity, age-worthy brews that are often brewed for enjoyment many years beyond their bottling date. I’m talking the Cantillons, Duvals and Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortels of the world. The beer everyone longs for, but few have the patience to store until they’re just right. Lucky for me, I’ve got a dark closet in a spare room that I store most of my home brew in. I’ve been able to keep a couple of cases of different brews that I deem fit for aging.
WHAT MAKES A BEER CELLAR WORTHY?
I deem a beer cellar worthy if it’s over 7% and typically more malt forward than hop forward. A beer that is bottle conditioned will typically age better than a standard filtered and force carbonated product, however, if it’s high enough in alcohol, it’ll probably cellar well.
The ambient temperature in my “cellar” (aka spare bedroom closet) sits at a fairly constant 16 to 18 degrees Celsius year-round and therefore is a pretty good space for it. As long as you’ve got a space that’s relatively free of high humidity, extreme temperature changes and light, you’ve got yourself a cellar. Unlike wine, you will want to keep the bottles upright. If you want some tips on properly storing your beer, visit Beer Advocate’s site.
A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND ON CELLAR WORTHY BEERS
The main goal of many breweries is to brew a whole bunch of really great beers that are meant to be consumed fresh, from the tap if at all possible, for immediate enjoyment. But every now and then, a brewery comes up with a beer that’s often quite high in alcohol and a little too “hot” to consume right away. Hot is the term beer judges will use to describe a beer with cloying and astringent characteristics whereby the alcohol is present in tasting. There are not many beers where you want this characteristic to show. What is the very best way to fix the problem? Give it time. An 11.5% imperial stout may sound like an awesome idea, but it might taste like a hot mess of cocoa and roast barley with a liquor-like burn if you drink it fresh.
Generally-speaking, brewers will age the beer in the bright tanks or barrels (if they or we as consumers are lucky enough!!!) for a year or so before releasing the beer. They then often mark the beer with a special label or place a wax seal or foil over the cap. The best before date may be 10+ years from the bottling date, or there may not be any expiry date at all.
Often times the big, cellar worthy beers are released as one-offs, seasonals or annual beers, and beer geeks like me either line up or go online to find out where the beers are, how many are available and if the beer has been brewed before. If the beer has been brewed before, chances are that older versions may be available and we’ll hit up social media or get on the horn with other beer geeks to find out if they’ve seen any. It’s like a Gretzky rookie card for us, we won’t stop searching till we find it!
ALLEY KAT BREWERY’S OLDE DEUTERONOMY
If you’re a beer guy like me and live in Alberta, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard about Alley Kat Brewery. If you’re a beer geek, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the coveted and often hard-to-find barley wine they produce known as “Olde Deuteronomy” (Have you seen “Cats”? Neither have I, but I understand that’s where the name’s from). This beer is one of the top rated Canadian beers on Beer Advocate, ratebeer and a lot of other beer websites. It’s a 10+% beer that can only be described as “out of this world”, “jaw dropping” and “gotta get me some-ing”. I was lucky enough to get a bottle of it from my good friend Colin Schulenborg at Silver Springs Liquor Store dating back to 2011. From what I understand, this was the last time they had brewed it till this year!
When I saw that the beer had been released again in 2014 for 2015 (Alley Kat‘s 20th anniversary) I just knew I had to pick up a bottle of the 2015 and toss it in the cellar. I’ve had the 2011 sitting in my cellar since about 2013, and I was curious to see how it has aged, and how it stacked up against the latest brewed one.
I spend each Christmas up in St. Albert, just outside of Edmonton, so I actually contacted Alley Kat to see if I might be able to get in touch with someone who could give me a little more background on Olde Deuteronomy (or Olde Deut, among geeks). I was able to connect with Kristan, their Marketing person, who got me in touch with Neil Herbst (the one and only). Neil agreed to sit down with me and do a little vertical tasting of Olde Deut 2011 vs 2015.
SO HOW DID IT GO?
I went to visit Neil at Alley Kat on Monday, December 29 at 3:00 pm. It was a cold, crisp Edmonton day (it’s winter in Edmonton, what did you expect?) and I made my way down from St. Albert. Being that I’ve lived in both Edmonton and Calgary, I forgot how many freaking lights and delays there seem to be driving around Edmonton! Neil showed me around a little (a mini brewery tour, I’d been there a few times before) and he talked about their expansion that happened a couple of years back.
We sat down at the tasting bar and he pulled out a couple of Alley Kat snifters. He cracked the 2011 first and then the 2015. He poured the 2011 first and I could see immediately that the head retention was low and the beer was looking a little hazy – perfect! We had a sip of the 2011 and it had all the elements you’d expect from a well-aged barley wine: sugar plums, dates, raisins, a touch of chewy toffee and not a trace of bitterness. He then poured the 2015 and much to my surprise, it smelled fresh and earthy, like a good English pale ale. Both of the beers had identical colour, but the 2015 had a nice tan head and the lacing was apparent from the first sip. Chewy toffee, caramel and the earthy hops fill the palate, but surprisingly, very little cloying “hot” flavour. It’s actually very similar to a little more potent ESB, and the robust malt profile and hops are curiously in balance for a young barley wine. At 100+ IBU, it certainly doesn’t show it here. This is a beer I could probably easily drink a 14 oz glass of, if not at least an 8 oz snifter.
Neil and I managed to consume both bottles and he was able to give me a little more background on the beer itself. First brewed in 1995, it was meant to be an annual release and to be cellared for years to come, before anyone in Alberta even had the first inkling of what the hell beer was. It became apparent in our conversation that Alley Kat has always known what craft beer is, and they’ve never been afraid to push the boundaries while staying in touch with what’s trending. From a well-made Full Moon IPA (formerly Full Moon Pale Ale, see Jason Foster’s side-by-side here) to a gluten-reduced Scona Gold kölsch and everything in between, Alley Kat isn’t afraid to let their creative juices flow. Lucky for us, their juice is beer and beer shall flow!