Friday, December 26, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes
No respectable beer snob can talk about big or dark beer these days without bringing the idea of cellaring a few bottles and seeing how their tastes change over time. This, however, has two drawbacks. One is that you have to be patient enough to let good beer sit for a year or more without drinking it. Second, you have to remember exactly when you cellared the beer in order to know when to open it.

While I have no proposals on how to make the first drawback acceptable, I found an easy way to get around the second one: Buy a holiday seasonal beer and open it one year later. And for my first cellaring experiment, I chose what is my favorite annual dip into Christmas beers: Left Hand's Snowbound Ale.

The 2008 version, which is rushing quickly out of stores, is a magnificent specimen of complexity. Brewed with crushed cinnamon, honey, chopped ginger, orange zest, cardamom and cloves, it is especially clove- and ginger-heavy, and its 8.6 percent ABV body takes a surprising back seat to the abounding spices. All in all, it is a very enjoyable beer.
After a year, spices remain stand-out and Snowbound is still something you want to be cooped inside with when the blizzard hits. But two big changes set in when consuming the 2007 version.

First, the beer frankly feels bigger. The head seems a little heavier, the darkness in the body feels a little more prevalent and while the spices raise their voice, the lingering taste is a little more hoppy bitterness showing its personality.

Second, the tastes feel a little more layered. Yes, they're all swirling together to bring about the same warming mix. But with age you can feel the steps more: The honey is on the nose, the ginger is in the initial bite, the cloves are on the full mouthfeel.

So, what's to be learned from this? Well, it's really the same message that many crooners say about Christmas cheer, rather than Christmas beer. Grab it and let the spirits be enjoyed all year through. Those spirits, after all, might be even more enjoyable if you let them nestle in your fridge long enough.

Now I can't wait to see what my 2007 Alaskan Smoked Porter is like after two years . . .
Anyone else got good cellaring stories or ideas?

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