Once in a while (pretty rarely indeed…) I just don’t have enough motivation to rate beers and I only would like to sit back and enjoy the content of my glass. That is the major difference between a beerticker , who can just drink a beer and tick it, and a beer rater, who wants/needs to evaluate the brew and write a review. Well, it is my problem and I’m the only one to blame, mind you … Anyway, I usually try to get advantage of such periods by “cleaning” my cellar and drinking duplicate and vintage beers.
First of all, a little introduction on vintage beers.
Some 15 years ago, I got pretty excited on aging beers and started to store a lot of different bottles in my cellar. I even wrote a dedicated page, which I still periodically update every time I can sample old beers. To be honest, my initial enthusiasm has been tempered since then. If it surely can be funny and interesting to see how each beer style is evolving during the years, it is not something I consider worth such time and effort anymore. There are definitely too few beers which will reward you at the end, so be sure of what you want to keep jealously in your cellar before starting with anything.
As I just had such a “rating-depression” period which lasted exceptionally long ( in fact the first half of November), I would like to share with you some of my impressions about the beers I had during these 16 days.
The Lancelot XI.I, a solid barley wine showing 11.1% alcohol, is perfectly able to resist some years of aging. My last two bottles, from 2005 and 2006, offer a pretty enjoyable beer which failed however to evolve and still, like younger samples, lacks of complexity.
The Belzebuth has been first brewed by the brewery Jeanne d’Arc at an impressive 15% alcohol content. Although being top-fermented, this beer shows indeed more characteristics of a malt liquor than of a Belgian strong ale. Taken over by the Brasseurs de Gayant in 2001, the brewery soon changed its name to Grain d’Orge and dropped down the alcohol content of the Belzebuth at 13%. Nowadays, you can even find versions of it at 11.8% and 8.8%. The 2004 version I just had remained quite respectable.
Trappist beers are classical candidates for cellaring. For those of you who wish to know a bit more on Trappists, you can read my Trappist beer page or, for more in-depth knowledge, the excellent book of Jef van den Steen, Trappist – Het Bier en de Monniken (does also exist in french but I am not sure about an english version).
I am one of those people who think the beer of Chimay have changed somewhere during the mid-nineties. Since then, they definitely fail to enthusiasm me. The three beers I just had –Blanche 1999 and 2000 and Rouge 2000 – were pretty dubious or at best quite tasteless. The Bleue (or Grande Réserve) is reputed to age better than her two sisters, so I will tell you more as soon as my two bottles (2000 and 2002) will be uncorked.
The nice surprise came from the youngest of the Trappist breweries: Achelse Kluis. The three beers – Achel Blond 2001 and 2002 as well as Achel Bruin 2002 – were very tasty and enjoyable, showing no signs of weakness.
As I’m a pretty big fan of the astringency of a fresh Orval, it is no surprise that I have not been really excited by the 2006 sample I had. Drink it fresh !
The beers La Trappe from the Dutch brewery of Koningshoeven (owned by Bavaria) are for me an even worse example than Chimay: they were definitely better in the nineties and nobody could convince me that nothing has changed in their recipes. Anyway, the sweet, oily and bubblegum-like Quadrupel 2000 has not altered my opinion.
Since the very beginning of my beer hunting “career”, I always had a soft spot for Rochefort, especially for the 10 which has been the leader of my ranking during many years. Many many beers came since then and, although I still consider the Rochefort to be very good beers, they are not on top anymore. I got mixed feelings from the aged ones I recently sampled. The two Rochefort 6 -both from 2006 – were uneven and quite dull. The Rochefort 8 from 2002 was on the contrary pretty inspiring. And what about the legendary 10 ? Here also some confusing conclusions: the 2006 was rather restrained while the 2001 still had pretty much strength and charisma. Would I have tried them blind, I would definitely have gone wrong in guessing the vintage.
Since the RateBeer.com “Best Beer in the World” competition put it on top in 2004, there has been a constant hype around Westvleteren. Years before already, this brewery meant something special for the beer geeks around the world. The quality of course, but above all the rarity of their beers made them mythic. Here also, my recent tastings gave me different impressions. While older ones – an 8 version from 2000 and a 12 from 1999 – were fully satisfying, the other two, younger versions of the 12 from 2004 and 2005, failed to be really enjoyable. One more example showing that cellaring beers is an inexact science.
Other Belgian beers:
The impressions here have been quite positive. They went from “above average” for beers like De Dolle Oerbier 2003, Bush Blond 2000, Bush de Noël 2001, Duvel 2000 and 2006 to “beautiful” for Liefmans Goudenband 1999, Boon Kriek 2001 and Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru 1999.
Those of you who think Germany does not have a beer style suited for aging are wrong ! No, I did not had some 10 years old Weissbier or Lager Hell … But a Berliner Weisse from Landré brewed at Schultheiss. Berliner Weisse is generally low in alcohol and shows a sometimes very solid sourness and acidity due to a lactic fermentation. The beer I had was a gift from ratebeerian “Der Doppelbock” and, unfortunately, the age of the bottle, cannot be determined exactly. But it seems to be between 35 and 40 years old. The beer remained fully drinkable and enjoyable with restrained sourish notes and subtle fruity tones. Impressive …
The two BFM Cuvée du 11ème I had (vintage 2008) were still more than respectable. The Cuvée du 9ème, an IPA brewed in 2006 by the same brewery, was even more than that. The hoppy character sure got more mellow but it looks like having now more depth and balance. I also had four or five BFM Alex le Rouge from 2007. This beer, for me the best Imperial Stout of the country, did not show any signs of weakness after 4 years of aging.
And finally, I have kept the best for the end, namely a Samichlaus 1996 from the defunct brewery Hürlimann. During the years, I have tasted this vintage at different ages: 5, 6, 7, 10 and 15 years old. I must admit that this beer never stops to amaze me: it seems immortal and its complexity is increasing while getting older. A beauty !