I have written about the joy of drinking properly treated cask ales recently – and about the misery of drinking beer that’s gone bad. Or course this is more of a challenge with a fresh brew that is exposed to both oxygen and other dangers, but there are lessons to be learned about other types of beer as well.
I usually do not let an opportunity pass to make fun at the expense of the big players in the beer industry. One thing that the macro brewers and distributors should have some credit for is that they have professional quality systems in place that makes sure that their product will be of consistent flavour and quality – a reliable pint, however dull it may be for the more critical drinker.
But making sure that the beer is in optimal condition also applies to bottled beers. Now, a pasteurized pilsener can take any amount of beating as long as you chill it before brewing. But with a bottle conditioned beer you have to be more careful.
Beer raters and tickers (sure, that includes me, too!) tend to congregate to have tastings of a fair number of beers. My crowd here in Oslo is usually able to limit the number of ratings on a given evening, but do we serve the beers in prime condition? I think as a rule of thumb, the beers to be tested should be allowed to rest for at least a week in the cellar of the host of the evening. I have seen ratings of beers that I have felt were in top form that others were less happy about –they would probably have been given better grades if they were treated a bit more carefully – to leave sentiments to settle and to cool slowly to a proper temperature. The worst places for this are probably the European ratebeer gatherings, where beers are shuffled around in backpacks and crates for days before being served far too warm.
I was reminded of this when I read the newsletter from the Copenhagen beer speciality store BarleyWine today. They write about the eagerly anticipated Dark Horizon Second Edition from Norwegian Brewer Nøgne ø:
Some of us/you may have tasted it at the Copenhagen Beer Festival. It was a big disappointment for me there. It was served far too warm by the producer, meaning that the alcohol was too prominent. The other underestimation of the public at the festival was that it was poured shortly after a drive of 500-700 kilometres. It applies to real craft brew – as for top wines – that they, even more than humans, need to calm down and rest and then appear after the worst stress is over…..
.. I had the opportunity of tasting DH#2 right after it arrived in Copenhagen about a month ago. It made a better impression than at the festival; at least it was served at the right temperature. But, even at that time it was freshly bottled and agitated by the trip from Norway to Denmark. The weeks it has been resting, thanks to the Danish bottle deposit systems and other bureaucracy, it has developed splendidly. It is getting ready for drinking, but everybody being able to do so, should make sure they can enjoy it at least a couple of times a year until 2020. It is by this pleasant exercise one will experience or revive the pleasure of becoming more mature.
I don’t necessarily endorse every word of this, and I neither have the funds or the cellar for laying down a few cases of the brew. But I felt the same way about this beer in Copenhagen; it was much rawer and less refined than DH#1, which I had enjoyed under more controlled conditions. I have a few bottles on order, and I will make sure they are allowed to rest before they are opened. I think Christmas Day, with a good book and a few walnuts, will be a way of giving enough time and showing the proper respect.
A note: BarleyWine goes on to praise the beer:
It has all the nuances a stout should have. A clear hint of coffee, a sublime dark chocolate aroma and, not the least, taste. But also, in the Christmas season, lots of Christmas fruit like figs, plums, apricots, raisins and cinnamon. The hoppy bitterness is present, but fully anonymous as it should be when it discreetly keeps the sweetness and alcohol in their place. This genius of craftsmanship places both the brew and the brewery in the very top of North European breweries.