Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Open It Big Lad! Open it man!

Good evening,

  there I was Saturday night, preparing myself for a very important early kick off in the realm of association football the very next day, and I decided to unleash the wild exotic flavours of one of my old stored beers, maybe as an emboldening of will, or a pre-emptive soother of hurt feelings. As it turned out, this random unplanned decision seemed to accidentally tie in with an event on that Twitter.

Despite not being a Tweetoid, I noted from reading a couple of beer blogs (the first two both in dear old Sheff) that something was on the cards, or rather, that it had been and was now finished. Over the next few days I noticed that a lot of prominent bloggers had partook. The event?  #Open It!

Now, putting aside my pickiness about the hash key* (!*=x#!) I perceived that this event was recklessly encouraging the despoiling of a treasured collection of ales. My collection is nearing 20 years old now and is continuously added to. The above justification for opening my bottle reflects the daunting magnitude of the coming event, but I was a little uneasy about the idea that all of a sudden half of the world's aged beers would be lost in a drunken tweet induced haze.

That said, this is not the root cause of my lack or partaking, that lies expressly in my lack of Twitter registration. But it still serves as a rubbish excuse for my being out of the loop, and reporting on something almost a week late....

Anyhoo, to clarify, Open It saw lots of folks across Twitter opening their saved bottles of beer. For more details and a handy logo see the article at the excellent Barl Fire blog (Open it at Barl Fire ). Now I was clear what the idea was, I could rejoice in the random happenstance of my opening an aged beer at the very same time as bloggers and tweeters the world over were accessing their hoards of special occasion bottles. And now I had a beer to tell you about into the bargain. Happy days.

My first offering was Abbaye Des Rocs Speciale Noel, 9.0% from Belgium. I bought it at ARBS yonks ago, and it may be from 2007. Maybe 2008.

It pours dark chestnut brown, almost black, with a thick consistency. It smells like all good aged beer does, but there are a lot of complex alcohol hints in there, particularly brandy, and sherry. There is also marmalade, orange zest and malt. It says "sit down fat boy. You 'll need a rest".

The taste is almost overpowering but quickly becomes sensational with tangerine, sweet alcoholic bite and sherry tones. This initial burst peters out a little and balance comes from the strengthened malt overtones, and a complimentary yeasty taste, which seems to make the mouthfeel warmer and somehow, more alcoholic. As you continue drinking the alcohol is most detectable in the nose.... and the legs. The overall might of flavours is simultaneously enjoyable, but lets you know you have had a strong beer.

There is no head retention until you add the yeast - arguably the yeast perhaps ought to be added in the first instance.

Overall - 8.8 - a scintillating lesson in layered flavours and complimentary ageing of an ale, in the redoubtable Belgian style.

After that joyous experiment I decided to find out what others had experienced whilst joining in. Reading some of the beers that other bloggers have dispatched in the name of Open It, its clearly been a celebration of some of the best and alas, the worst, of beer bottling from around the world. This made me think that I should perhaps open a second of my collection..... So, next up is a beer that I bought from the Dram Shop, Commonside.

I bought 3 bottles of Old Bear brewery beer at the same time. I have had two (both Bruin mild, and WF had one; they have all been rank, undrinkable caskets of cack). So, I thought, I had nothing to lose. I knew Dave had opened his (bottle of this) and poured that away as well, so all I was doing in opening this beer was saving myself disappointment later on.

So the beer chosen was Old Bear Capstan F.S 12.5 %.

My concern was immediately roused by the Best Before date. Given that a 12.5% BCA beer should last about 4 to 20 years with the right yeast, September 2011 seemed a little cautious - granted I don't know when it was bottled, but I only bought it in 2009 or 2010. What could explain such reticence?

Well, all too quickly, my trepidation was justified.

Firstly, there was no carbonation. It poured, clear, and I was able to leave the yeast in the bottle, bar a few clumps of odd coloured detritus that sunk to the bottom of the glass. The smell, whilst I was (essentially) photographing the brew, was initially pleasing. A whole surge of aged alcohol and malt came to the fore but all too quickly was tinged with yeasty badness.

The colour however, was a revelation -  a vibrant chestnut brown, with dark amber notes, but with almost no head, except for a microfiine Disprin tidemark as you drank.

In reality Disprin would have been a delicious addition to this one dimensional morass of grim features.

The aroma has quickly shifted form friend to foe. The strong alcohol waft does not dissipate but too soon the yeasty sour fruits arrive and you are left wondering where the hints of balanced malt and bitter in the initial aroma have gone. All these jarring grimace inducing pongs assemble in the first taste. And worse is to come.

Once sips two and three pass your lips you're moustache deep in a trough of sharp yeast. Now the subtle hints of orange and remaining alcohol notes give way to a more prevalent off beer hum. Fruit flavours become soured and apart form a suggestion of peach preserved in alcohol, its yeast in the driving seat from now on.

Its neither as good as it looks or originally smelt. Its unsubtle and utterly one dimensional. As I offered the beer to Chala to get a fresh palate assessment, she refused even to taste it, but said the smell reminded her or sour cherry - I thought of rotting plums when you tip them in the compost bin. Adding the yeast in a desperate attempt to coax some balance from the tangy soup only serves to exacerbate the problem. Its simply an unpleasant beer, half of which I pour away...

So there you have it.

Storing beer for a special occasion (or social media experiment) is a joyous and disappointing experience, depending on which beers you try. Its been encouraging to see good reviews of beers I still have stored, as well as evidence that some beers don't age, or that the yeast is not up to scratch.

The major downsides are pertinent though.

Who says this is real ale?

Firstly, people usually buy strong bottled beer at a premium price, and many years before they intend to open it. Receipts are tricky in such cases, especially if you get them off a market stall or when on holiday.

Worst of all though, this dreadful offering proudly proclaims "CAMRA says this is real ale!". Once more, the folly of encouraging brewers to pour beer and yeast into a bottle  and allowing the label to pronounce that this is how beer should taste is writ large. This bizarre promotional claim is either misguided, arrogant or stupid. If I didn't drink real ale and tasted that beer, what conclusion would I draw? That real ale was a nice drink?

Of course not. Its the most damaging idea CAMRA have had since they pursued taking pubs out of the GBG that sold fake-pump Addlestones. And in the end, they get to share the shame of the brewer for producing a product not fit for sale.

Lets try a new scheme instead - "The brewer of this beer wants you to tell them what you think".

To avoid the prevarication and timely efforts of finding the brewers address and wording your letter to suit, just bang some brief comments on a specially set up website or postal address, for all brewers foisting BCA's on us to see, and let them read (or hear) just how crap their offerings so often are - and then publish the results each month. Soon put off the hobby bottlers and novelty short run brewers.....


Wee Beefy.

*(surely any title starting with a hash symbol or octothorpe means its a measurement of something - in America it can relate to the cost, I see it as a number in a series, but the twitosphere intend it to mean a keyword or phrase about something. In my day (etc).....) 

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