Saturday, 1 December 2012

Experiments in Aging: Rochefort 8 and 10 One Year In

Around the time I started this blog, I also began cellaring beers (or, I suppose more precisely, I began systematically adding to the limited selection of 2007 and 2008 Thomas Hardy Ales I already had aging).

If you are unfamiliar with this process, yes, some beers can improve with age and aren't best drank fresh. Typically, Old Ales, Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, and Belgian Strongs age well: note these are mostly 8+ % ABV beers. The exceptions to the strong rule are live/bottle-conditioned beers and gueuzes/lambics which can be aged even if lower in alcohol, while generally hoppier if-still-strong IIPAs (for example) which lose their hop profile fairly quickly should basically always be consumed fresh.  For more tips on the process, check out this excellent article.

Of course, like with most other things about beer, I am sharing my personal writing as I learn myself. Likewise, I am no expert at this. I have drank a few aged beers at establishments, but having just begun my own aging experiments, this is my first week of tasting the outcomes.

I am going to discuss two such 1-year attempts here. Trappistes Rochefort's 8 and 10, their dubbel and quad respectively. Neither was stored in a strictly climate controlled setting, but both were stored in predominant darkness in an actual cellar with temperatures ranging from 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit with slow seasonal variation.

The 8 was originally reviewed here, while in year-old form it remains extremely frothy, but with an even sweeter, less boozy fruity-sweet nose of plums but also sweet cherries. The taste is similar but with a drier earthier finish, and just a slight trace of chocolate towards the end. Simply marvelous! In my opinion this beer went from excellent to unearthly! I did not taste a fresh one beside it, but living in a Province where the local liqueur store makes this regularly available means I get to consume it frequently and this improvement is clear... And an improvement on a phenomenal beer is, indeed, noteworthy.  The fruity nose seems to exemplify the change, as it gets sweeter and bolder, while the taste and mouth likewise get even less boozy than beforehand - which was negligible for its high ABV.

The 10 seemed to change less, or at least less for the better, though not necessarily for the worse. Originally reviewed here, this offering again unsurprisingly retains its carbonated excess evidenced by a thick head.  The extra fruity nose, with plums, prunes, figs and faint wisp of chocolate is similar to the original, but also a honey/fermenting strawberries as it warms and a touch of leather and faint mustiness. Tastewise, however, this beer was far more boozy up front with a honey-ish sweetness (almost like a boozy/sticky mead, if far less cloying) with a hint of faint chocolate. The boozy notes temper somewhat after a few sips, though I am not sure if this is the beer's evolution, or my acclimatization to it.  It remains complex and smooth, though slightly sticky if finely carbonated.

The 10 was still good, but when fresh the 8 tastes far boozier than the 10 and this tasting brought the converse.  This is extremely odd since the 10 is remarkably non-boozy despite its hefty ABV normally.

Many online swear the following that could all be factors:

  • That the 10 could and perhaps should be aged for 5 to 10 years to see a substantial difference
  • That aging can be a crapshoot in that there are waves of good and bad times, ups and downs and it is virtually impossible to know when opening one how it will be at that point in time.
Things I have learned:

  • Next time, I won't be overly hasty and will drink them side-by-side with fresher examples (even if I am quite familiar with both)
  • With the success of the 8, I cannot wait to see what the 10 can - and hopefully will - become!

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