Wednesday 1st July 1981 was a good day. I was 7 years old, probably doing something carefree in the garden, most likely involving a hosepipe or climbing frame, and it was probably sunny. It always was. That's a fact, using rose tinted glasses. To be fair, even if it wasn't sunny, it was certainly a good day for me because Davefromtshop graduanded in Bournemouth and purchased at least 2 bottles of Eldridge Pope Thomas hardy Ale, brewed on that date. We tried one in 2006 and it was astonishingly good. Kept for 25 years, as the bottle promised you could, the beer was in amazing condition.
One bottle remained, and it was getting to the point where Eldridge Pope'/s claims about it still being drinkable were seeming less likely. Dave mentioned to me a while back that he as looking forward to opening it and kindly asked if I'd like to partake of half the bottles contents. Unsurprisingly I said yes, and have been looking forward to the prospect ever since.
So 11,412 days after it was brewed, we hoped to find out if 01 July 1981 is still a date worth remembering, as we opened the second bottle.
I wasn't writing a blog in 2006, which is a shame because I don't have any written details about the taste or even appearance of the 25 year vintage, in order to make a clear comparison. All I can do is fossick through my obfuscate cupboard of beer memories to note a few things - like its colour, which was a beautiful chestnut orange (memories don't seem to wheedle out absurd sounding colour combinations it seems), that it was incredibly strong, that you could still taste the hops in amongst the overpowering alcoholic punch and that crucially the yeast was still alive, and doing its job.
We opened this one with trepidation. It fizzed, but it was more like a tiny cough and straight away we could tell the bottle was not carbonated as the brewer had intended. It smelled very similar to the last bottle, if that's even possible, with a huge sherry and slightly musty aroma in amongst an unsubtle blast of alcohol and , I swear this is true, leather. However, here the similarities with the 25 years old version ended.
It was a far darker colour. It tasted sharper, and there was no hint of hops. It even managed to taste slightly musty, and also had the sherry flavour that was present in the George Gales Prize Old Ale. It was better than that though, really much more fruity and the strong alcohol flavour was faintly reminiscent of port. There wa also just enough sweeteness to balance it out, similar to the taste of barley sugar sweets
One really interesting feature was the bubbles. We had poured the beer quickly into each glass to teases some otherwise missing carbonation from the brew. They were a really beautiful white, really large in size and they didn't seem to disappear as we drank. Taking a close up in the glass, with the bubbles grouped round teh sides, the image below nicely shows the beer with a deep russet red colour, flanked by the sparkling pearl like bubbles.
We kept aside a small amount of the yeast, and we did actually add it at the very end. It was clear from the less harmonious flavours that the yeast had died. This was disappointing, but I think the yeast does pretty bloody well to last 25 years, which our previous bottle demonstrated it had.
There are, as with all live bottled beers, numerous factors that could have contributed to the yeasts demise and the slight spoiling of what is a truly incredible beer. I have tasted a 1 year old, 8 years old, 15 year old and a 25 year old prior to this. And I still can't say what the best age is to drink it given the myriad of possibilities that there are for how the beer could turn out. The 25 year old was amazing, but Dave mentioned that this bottle had been mistreated over the years, kept at different and unsuitable temperatures amongst other things, so perhaps the beer is drinkable aged 31, but only if its kept at a constant suitable temperature?
Who knows, but if you see a vintage for sale I would still recommend shelling out for it. I am still taken aback by how brilliant the 25 year old was, and the slightly off flavours in amongst the overwhelming vinous qualifies reminded me that this was probably only a random event away from being one of the best beers I ever tasted. So near, yet maybe a year or two too far.
Next year my oldest bottle turns 20. I only have two left now, and both are different vintages so I'm going to have them both at 25 years and hope for the best. Despite this minor upset, I am really looking forward to it.