So….I have to admit, I’m not really sure how to start this week’s column, but I figure I’ll just dive in wherever it feels right…
Almost a year ago I was at the Craft Brewer’s Conference in DC listening to New Belgium founder Kim Jordan rail about people cellaring IPA’s. This is a pet peeve of many people. Her argument is that people shouldn’t be doing it because the brewers making the beers intend for the beers to be consumed fresh.
Yes, I fully acknowledge that the vast majority of beers that craft breweries are producing are best consumed fresh. And I understand that the intention of the majority of brewers, when they make the wonderful hop bombs that we hop-heads so love to consume. I get that they’re creating beers meant to showcase the hops. That said, I still like to cellar some of these beers.
After experimenting with cellaring, I have a few rules of thumb that I have developed – Nothing under 7.5 percent ABV. And that’s pushing it. Beers with lesser alcohol content, I have found, are just not robust enough to last very long (and it goes without saying, no session ales). Two: Nothing that’s a pale lager, and you have to be selective regarding the dark lagers (for example, you can get away with a Baltic porter, but not an amber lager in most cases). And most importantly, nothing I haven’t already sampled fresh.
As for Ms. Jordan railing about it, I do have to say that while I understand her concerns, I disagree with her excoriating her customers. Not that it’s likely to hurt her, but I do think it was bad business.
Sure, the brewers have an intention when they brew and a flavor that they wish to impart – but that doesn’t diminish one’s right to experiment.
And that’s what I am doing.
When the India Pale Ale first came along as a style, the beer was subject to an increased hopping in order to ensure that the beer being shipped from England to India would survive the long months at sea (four to six months, and possibly longer if the voyage encountered bad weather) and come out the other end as a drinkable product. Yup, hops were introduced to beer as a preservative.
I have been experimenting with cellaring over the course of about the last four and a half years. The only beer I have cellared for longer than 24 months is a Greater Pumpkin that I have now had in the cellar for three and a half years (the bourbon barrel was overwhelming when I first sampled this beer), and the only styles with which I go past one year are things like Strongs, Old Ales, and Barley Wines.
And I think I have learned the most by cellaring IPA’s.
Without knowing exact recipes for the original IPA’s, this is what I have learned:
English style IPA’s do not cellar well, however, American style ones with their increased hop characteristic do. Anecdotally, these are the assumptions that I have made based on that; I believe that it is likely that the original English IPA’s had a much hoppier note coming out of the fermentation tanks than the current day ones do. If I had to guess, I would say that the British brewers of the style had to tone down the hops for domestic consumption, and (again, pure conjecture) that’s how we have the current English style IPA, which is significantly lighter on hops than its American counterpart.
The American IPA’s that I have cellared, particularly the ones with the higher ABVs, have come out of the cool, damp recesses of the bowels of my house (okay…that didn’t sound right) after six months have come out as beautiful, drinkable malty beverages with just a hint of hops. They have been very different beers, and while certainly not the beers that their brewers intended, the best of them have remained great beers.
Not every beer that I have done this with has cellared well, but it has, in my opinion, been a worthwhile endeavor.
As for Ms. Jordan, if it bothers her to cellar IPA’s, than she shouldn’t do it. If it bothers you, don’t do it. Me, I’m going to keep the experiment going, because I have enjoyed the results thoroughly.
Tapped and Uncapped
This week I bring to you the Oddland 1: Peppercorn Saison by Elysian. The aptly named Oddland has label art from artists at Seattle-based comic book publisher Fantagraphics, and is producing beers that are, shall we say, a little bit beyond the pale? I will preface my recommendation by saying that I believe that people are going to either really enjoy this beer, or they are going to hate it.
I found myself in the former camp. The aroma of the beer is pretty much what the label advertises – peppercorns meet saison. The beer, in spite of know it was peppercorn-infused, the saison still came off…somehow unexpected with both the peppery flavors and my fondness growing on me. The more I imbibed, the more the heat grew. It was never overwhelming, but by the end of the glass, there was a lovely tingling in my mouth.
Again, this is certainly not a beer for everyone, but I think it’s a beer worth trying. Incidentally, I picked up my bomber of it at the Roasthouse.
Until next week, be well and drink good beer.