As I have written about several times in the past, I am a fan of long-aging beers and the evolution of flavours that aging brings upon these beers (posts 1, 2, 3). Indeed, one of the earlier homebrew’s I discussed on my blog was the brewing of the Gnarly Roots Barley Wine – a classic barely wine recipe from Charlie Pappazian’s Hombrewers Companion, which has the notable feature of also being a funky beer that is aged with B. bruxellensis and B. lambicus.
This beer is very nearly 2.5 years old (specifically, it is 890 days, AKA 2 years, 5 months and 7 days old). I’ve posted two tasting notes about this beer previously – one at bottling, when the beer was ~7 months old, and a second when the beer was ~1.5 years old. Over that time the beer began t age nicely; the original strong bitterness had begun to fade, classical aged flavours (sherry, caramel) had begun to form, and some hints of Brettanomyces had begun to emerge. Its been almost another year since I posted the last set of tasting notes, and its time for a new one, as I think the beer is finally nearing its peak.
Appearance: The beer pours a bright coppery-red, crystal clear, with a soapy white head. But you have to pour carefully – proteins are beginning to precipitate out, meaning a poor pour leaves the beer cloudy, with noticeable chunks at the bottom of the glass. This loss of protein (plus the 12.8% alcohol) causes the head to be short-lived, although a thin ring persists around the edge of the glass until the end of the pint.
Aroma: Malt sweetness dominates, complemented with with a pleasant blend of sherry and fruit notes. A subtle funk is present in the background, as is a slight alcohol note.
Flavour: The beer has achieved a fantastic balance – the extreme hop bitterness of the young beer has faded, while the sherry and caramel notes typical of aged beers have become the dominant flavours. As the beer warms a fruit character emerges – a mix of classical English fruitiness plus some bretty-stone fruit. In the background is a small hint of leathery funk, lending a subtle refinement to the flavour. There is almost no alcohol heat, and no fusel hotness at all. It is amazing how this initially unbalanced beer has achieved such a great balance of complex flavours, through nothing more then time in the cellar. The aftertaste itself is one of lingering sweetness and a subtle leatheriness.
Mouthfeel: The body of the beer is medium, but is fading as the brett continues to slowly consume the remaining dextrans – also resulting in an increase in carbonation, with the beer now quite effervescent. While above what is normal for a barley wine, the prickling sensation of this higher carbonation accentuates a slight alcohol burn in the aftertaste – the only real indication you get that this beer is over 12% in strength.
Overall: This beer embodies everything about aged beers that I enjoy – a continual building of complex flavours, ever changing balance between flavours, and a unique character that cannot be replicated through any process other then long aging. This is a beer for sipping; good for a quiet afternoon on the deck (or, in winter, in front of a fire), where you can take the time to enjoy the complexity of the beer and the changes in flavour that emerge as the beer warms. It was a fair bit of work to get it to this point, and only half the batch remains, but the end product was well worth the effort and wait.