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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Doggie Claws at Six and a Ghost From the Past

As I get ever longer in the tooth, my beer cellar ever improves. I've made a concerted effort this year to start laying in good beers, but I also have scattered purchases dating back to the late 90s. Last night, to toast the new president, I broke out a couple.

2002 Doggie Claws
Confessions first: I don't love barleywines. I know this is an excommunicatable offense among beer geeks, but what can I say? To my palate, most barleywines are like music piped through speakers a few clicks of volume higher than they were made to handle. The malt is sticky and cloying, the hops shrill and overwrought--painful, but unable to temper the syrupy goo. Ah, but when they're good, they're insanely good. So it is with six-year-old doggie claws. Everything about this beer was perfect, from the head retention, which inexplicably lasted until the final drop despite the alcohol, to the aroma of gingerbread and spice to the magnificent flavor, where the malt and hops were silky rich but at the perfect volume. The malt had lost the leather quality and was more akin to something baked--spiced plum bread or gingerbread. The hops retained a lively spiciness that perfectly drew out the malt notes. I have almost never tasted a beer I would score 100 points out of a 100 points, but this had not a single flaw; better, the elements were greater than their sum. An amazing beer. I'll be laying a lot more of this away in the future.

1998 Saxer Three-Finger Jack Doppelbock
A few of you will recall Saxer Brewing, kaput since the late 90s. They specialized in lagers, and the annual pièce de résistance was Three-Finger Jack. Saxer was ahead of its time with lagers in an ale land, but there was no dispute about the doppel--we all loved it. I bought a sixer and I've been parsing it out at very special occasions.

Sadly, I think I've waited too long. It's gone beyond its prime. It was extremely oxidized and more or less flat. The original flavor was suggested, but dissipated. I was reminded of snapshots from the 70s, before they'd perfected color photography. You look at them now and they're all spotty and blurry. This is a risk with aging beer, and one to which I'm particularly susceptible. I regard the beer as too precious to drink. It's stupid, a subversion of the art, but we all have our faults. Perhaps this will encourage me to start drinking these beers, before it's too late.


  1. Jeff,

    HOTD Doggie Claus was one of the first beers I learned to cellar, mostly out of necessity as it is too green upon release to really enjoy (watch as I completely reverse myself by the end of this post).

    I bought a case of 2002 a couple of years back (pre-cellar knowledge) and it is a real dividing line for my friends. For some, their eyes light up whenever it is brought out. Others, including me, prefer the new recipe, which changed in '04 I think.

    We were drinking '06 last week and have the '08 on the kegerator so doing a bit of a comparison. While I think the '08 is one of the more drinkable "fresh" versions that Alan has released, but woah, the '06 was a marvel of hop and malt balance.

  2. Patrick: Totally agree. At a friend's vertical tasting last month, the '06 was my fave of 2002-2008.

  3. I recently did a vertical of '04 & '06-'08. They were all great, but the '06 is just a little better than the rest.

  4. Bill,

    I saw your post re: the DC vertical. I'll have to go refresh my memory on your thoughts on this series. I remember being pretty impressed/astounded that your group could do a HOTD DC vertical and a Jubelale vertical in the same sitting. I haven't been able to pull off planned DC vertical.

  5. I can't speak to all the incarnations of the beer, but I would add a caution about looking for a "best." Aged beers are not fixed entities. They come in and out of harmony. I can't comment about the recipes of different vintages, but I can comment on the one I had last night, which was superb. I can imagine another beer with a different configurations of flavors tasting as good, but it was as good as any beer I've ever tried, full stop. I have one or two more down there, and when I crack it (them), I won't be a bit surprised to find an entirely different beer. Those are the joys of cellaring.

  6. I'm most surprised by the head retention in yours… I've recently tried the '06-'08 (and still have a bottle of '05 waiting to be shared), but every one of them - including the fresh batch from the most recent dock sale - has been nearly flat. I hesitate to turn the bottle upside down and let out all the yeast, but I've poured them pretty aggressively, and I can only manage a quarter of an inch of foam at most, which does not linger long at all. This is in stark contrast to the Fred [from the Wood], which fills my New Belgium glass with foam after having gently poured only a quarter of the bottle.

    I'm also one of the few (only?) people who prefer the fresh batch over the aged. Currently, the '08 has a honey blossom flavor which I absolutely love, but when aged it loses that distinct characteristic and turns too sweet for my personal preference - hops don't even play a factor. I usually like fairly sweet barleywines, but this goes too far - verging on Lagunitas Gnarleywine territory. Last year's Old Tavern Rat from Lompoc is much more up my alley (this year's is a diacytelic(?) abomination… *shrug*).


  7. Jeff wrote: "I would add a caution about looking for a "best." Aged beers are not fixed entities."

    Good point. I half suspect that the 2006 is tasting good to a lot of us right now because two years is a good age for beer. Enough time to evolve/mellow; not enough time to lose flavor or spoil.

    YMMV, and I'm glad that your 2002 was such a great experience.