Saturday, July 22, 2023

Vintage Beer Evaluation: How Well Did They Age?

In 2023, Owen Ogletree gathered beer judges/enthusiasts Kerri Allen, Ian Meents, Erich Fietkau, Brian Bailey and Mark Hall (L-R) to evaluate ten vintage beers of varying styles. Our comments below reflect how well each beer held up over the years, and the tasters also picked favorites.

2014 Ritterguts Gose

Gose, 4.7% ABV
Ritterguts Gose GmBH
Borna/Saxony, Germany
Hazy gold in color with aromas of apple cider, latex, light vinegar and brown sugar. Flavors include hints of apple cider vinegar, an appropriate level of salt and a touch of coriander. It's like a mild apple pie with no pie spices. The palate also picks up notes of lemons, acidity and a hint of wet cardboard. The acid content seems to have preserved many flavors and nuances of the original character of the beer.

2014 Old Stock Ale Cellar Reserve
Old Ale aged in wheated whiskey barrels, 14.4% ABV
North Coast Brewing Company
Ft. Bragg, CA, USA
The appearance comes across as murky brown with almost no carbonation. Aromas emerge that include barrel vanillins, strong malt, rum, oak, prunes, raisins, molasses, dark fruits and raw dough. Hints of oxidized ethanol are also present. On the tongue, the beer produces flavors of prunes, raisins, rum, brown sugar, spices, cinnamon and a lingering warmth. A hint of bittering hops has persisted. The beer seems reminiscent of a barrel-aged dark rum.

2009 Fuller's Vintage Ale
Old Ale, 8.5% ABV
Fuller's Brewery
Chiswick, London, UK
When poured, the beer appears hazy brown with light carbonation and a light layer of tan foam. We found soft aromas of malt, toffee, coriander spice, caramel malts, nice fruity esters and almost no oxidation. Flavors include moderate malt, vanilla, figs, plums and raisins. The ale seems surprisingly bright for its age. There's also a tannin hint, perhaps from the English bittering hops. A slight paper note evolves as the beer warms, but the ale remains remarkably appealing and drinkable. The dryish finish comes across as quite pleasant, but the tasters noted that most of the flavors seem much milder than expected.

2014 La Folie Sour Brown Ale
Flanders-style Brown Ale/Oud Bruin aged three years 0n French Oak, 7.0% ABV
New Belgium Brewing
Ft. Collins, CO, USA
The appearance is almost clear, with a brown hue and an extremely mild head. The nose 
detects strawberries, acidity, a light acetic note, brown candy sugar, fig preserves and a Marmite nuance. On the palate, the ale's high acidity (low pH) is powerful but acceptable. There's a note of strawberries and balsamic vinegar with hints of phenols, caramel malt and zero hop bitterness. The sour ale finishes dry with a fruity/acidic character. 

2015 Terrapin Richland Reserve
Double IPA aged in rum barrels, 12.0% ABV
Terrapin Beer Company
Athens, GA, USA
This hazy ale pours with a cloudy, amber/brown hue and light tan head. Aromas include aged rum, wet cardboard, moderate oxidation, overripe fruit and a hint of phenols. We found flavors of fruit, old dark honey, dark cherries, plums, figs, residual sugar, caramel, prune juice and overripe raisins. This ale demonstrates lots of oxidation character and now seems more like an English Old Ale than a DIPA. It's still a good sipper, though. 

2018 Rullquin Stout
Stout/Lambic Blend, 7.0% ABV
Braserie Artisanale de Rulles & Gueuzerie Tilquin
Dark brown in color with substantial clarity, this beer contained the best carbonation on the table. The head appears tan in color. Of course, the nose picks up lambic/gueuze notes backed by chocolate, berries, citrus hints, lactic acid and Brettanomyces complexity. This ale tastes like a beautiful gueuze lambic mixed with a malty brown ale. The bright and appealing beer tastes of apricot and kiwi. Lambic character dominates the dark malts somewhat, but the blend still works well. The light/medium body finishes somewhat dry and ends with an interesting wild grape nuance. 

2008 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale
English Barleywine, 11.5% ABV
J.W. Lees & Company
Manchester, UK
The appearance is murky brown with absolutely no carbonation or foam. Impressive aromas include prunes, dark fruit, raisins, oxidation, dark chocolate, toffee and lightly burnt sugar. The palate picks up rich dark malt, chocolate and brown sugar, followed by some vegetal notes similar to old bell pepper and celery. Other notes include soy sauce, sesame seeds and green peanuts - reminiscent of an Asian stir-fry. The finish includes a sweet, malty, pleasant aftertaste. 

2013 Burton Baton
Double IPA aged in oak barrels, 10.0% ABV
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Milton, DE, USA
Muddy light brown in color with a minuscule layer of foam, this strong ale delivers aromas of caramel candy, oxidized malt and a hint of hops. It's quite impressive that a mild hop note has persisted in this beer. Flavors include a wort-like note, abundant caramel malt and pleasing fruity esters. Hops peek through like an old man's spark in his eye while on life support. There are also toffee notes, dark cherries, prunes, overripe fruit and a note of light Madeira, sherry and port wines. 

2015 Locals Stash Reserve Series
Triple Chocolate Imperial Porter, 7.0% ABV
Crazy Mountain Brewing Company
Denver, CO, USA
The color is deep brown with almost perfect clarity. A minor head persists for quite a bit. The nose picks up bitter chocolate, ashy tobacco, Maduro cigar, dark cherries with chocolate and a light acidic note. Smells a bit like old fudge dessert. Flavors include tart acidity, vegetal notes, a thin body, a hint of light chocolate, soy sauce and nuances of a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. This beer probably would have fared better over the years if it held a higher gravity (greater alcohol content). 

2015 Departed Spirit
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, 10% ABV
Three Taverns Craft Brewery
Decatur, GA, USA
The beer pours with a nearly opaque appearance, black color and a moderate head that's impressive for the beer's age. Aromas include vanillin, wood tannins, bourbon, chocolate, dark cigars, toasted oak, toasted coconut, dark cherries and a hint of smoke. Look for flavors such as upfront rich malt, bitter chocolate, rich fruity esters and oaky vanilla. There's a hint of cardboard, a medium/full body and a dryish finish that probably comes from the age. Hints of popsicle sticks emerge in this flavorful and tasty strong ale that tastes a bit like a Maduro cigar soaked in molasses. 

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