Over the weekend, I had occasion to crack open one of the few remaining bottles I have brewed the long-defunct Saxer Brewery. Back in 1998, when it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, I had the foresight to buy a sixer each of their flagship Bock, Dark Bock, and the legendary Three-Finger Jack Doppelbock. I have a friend who turned forty on the 20th, and so I dug into the larder to pull out the dusty gem. It takes a milestone like that.
Before I rave about the beer, let me again make a pitch for the beer cellar. If you've got a basement, it's easy to pull off. Beer's cheap. The Saxer I bought cost less than 20 bucks back in '98--and now I'm sure I could easily find a buyer who'd pay twice that for a single bottle. This is partly because the brewery is now defunct: Tony Gomes, the German-trained brewer, was hand-crafting among the most celebrated lagers in America (the bock won gold at GABF three years running), and we'll never taste these beers again. But also, any high-gravity beer is worth more a few years down the road than it is when you pull it off the grocery shelf. They don't always taste better--aging is an imprecise science--but when they do ... wow.
The nice thing is that it costs very little to get started. Go to the store, buy a case of assorted beer, put 'em in the basement and forget about them. Repeat each year. Before you know it, you're hauling out a bottle that's ten years old. Okay, off my soapbox.
So, to the bock. Gomes brewed this beer like it was 1873--which is to say, expensively. He used a decoction mash and aged it for--well, memory doesn't serve too well. But he left it in the tank long enough to knit owner Steve Goebel's brow. As a slight sop to the local market, Gomes over-hopped it to maybe 35 IBUs (marginally, but for a German brewer, it was enough to cause his brow to knit). The resulting beer, as I recall, was extremely smooth and rich, with just enough spice to make it inviting for my IPA-lovin' palate.
The ten-year-old version was nothing like that. It had been transmuted, alchemically, into a dense, smoky, aged thing. I find antique beers hard to describe because the palate cues are totally different. Oxidation produces a distinct flavor that either washes a beer out and turns it papery, or it melds with the malt and hops to create flavors that a younger beer never has. Saxer Bock was almost impossibly rich and smooth. Gomes' excessive hopping was wholly absent, as you would expect in a burly beer (7.2%) that never really had many to start with. As with every successful aged beer I try, my one regret is that I didn't buy more...