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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cellar Report

We've been hosting a holiday party for a number of years, and three or four ago, I started busting out some gems from the cellar. As my cellar gets fuller over the years, the annual roll-out gets more and more extravagant. Yesterday, boosted by some of the beers I brought back from Europe, we had quite the blowout. Below are some comments on a selection of the bounty.

Westvleteren Blonde, 2011. I was not much impressed by the famous 12 at the brewery, But the blond was a treat. It was even better out of the bottle. A light, spritzy beer with a notable saison yeast character. I have no idea why this beer isn't the legendary one.

Fuller's Vintage Ale, 2000. John Keeling, the master brewer at Fuller's, pulled this out of his own cellar when we visited--and it was definitely the highlight of the night. Eleven years is pretty long for an 8.5% beer, but Keeling designed this for the long haul. (Amazingly, it's still available for just eight pounds--the best deal in brewing.) There is, predictably, lots of dark fruit and smooth, caramel notes. The immediate impression is port, though. The taste of age, chemical changes and very slight oxidation, is on perfect display here. It is a crucible for cellaring beer: if you don't like this beer, cellaring is not for you. Our crowd greeted it with astonishment and delight.

Upright Billy the Mountain, 2010. I didn't get a lot of this one--just enough to take note. Alex has changed the process for this beer, but he might want to reconsider. After a year, the brettanomyces have added a lovely tart snap to an otherwise hearty, sweet, English-style ale. they've thinned the beer a bit, but it's still rich and still has a fair amount of sweet, candyish malt. If you have a bottle, consider drinking it now--it's really nice.

Block 15 Ferme De La' Ville Provision, 2011. I love this beer and wanted folks to try it while it was still fresh and bright. In my view, one of the best saison made, and the very vest made with wild yeast.

Deschutes Dissident, 2009. I bought a case of this, and I wish I'd drunk it quicker. It's just on the edge of passing too far. Already, the Brett has eaten a hole in the center of the palate--and it seems almost to pull moisture out of the cells of your mouth by osmosis, so dry has it become. Still quite a tipple, but I remember what it was like last year.

Fuller's Past Masters Stout, 2011. Another real joy, this stout was made from an 1893 recipe and ingredients as authentic as the brewery could procure. It is a roasty, meaty stout, but one broadly similar to current recipes. No brett, but otherwise a trip to Victorian England.

Widmer KGB Stout, 2010. Speaking of roasty, I was amazed to find this beer had changed very little in a year's time. I think it could easily go another five years.

Full Sail Doppelbock, 2008. Just a hair past its prime, with a stewing that goes a bit flaccid in the middle.

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, 2008. I had only a mouthful of this--enough to confirm it remains in perfect, tasty form.

There were several more, but those are some of the more interesting highlights.


  1. Did you mean the 2008 Dissident? (It says 2009 in your post, but they didn't make it that year, only 2008 and 2010 so far). I think I might still have a bottle of the '08 left. Should either drink it soon or make some cranberry upside-down cake with it, I guess!

  2. I brought that Fuller's Vintage that you gave me at the Craft Beer Company back with me. I think I'll let it lurk for a bit and crack it on some special occasion, like when we break even or something.

  3. Maybe the Westy 12 you had at the brewery was still young. I picked up a couple of bottles from them in Sept. and don't plan on getting into them for a few years.

  4. Bri, thanks. Yeah, the '08.

    Ted, yes, save it for a special occasion.

    Eulal, not buying it. Westvleteren 12 is just an undistinguished beer. I've had it fresh at the brewery, I've had it in a three-year-old bottle. Every time I mention the age, someone tells me it's better at a different age. Hogwash--it's totally adequate fresh and it picks up a slight bit of character with age, but it is in no way better than a B beer on its best day. There are literally dozens of strong ales that are its superior (including the ones down the road at St Bernardus, which are excellent), and if the monks didn't make devotees go on pilgrimage to buy it, nobody'd notice the beer at all. Strangely, the pilgrims fail to notice a truly exceptional beer when they arrive--or perhaps they never get around to trying the blond and miss it altogether.

  5. I did a vertical tasting of the Fulelrs this weekend You got through some interesting one sthere yourself, a few names fo rme to look out for

  6. Yeah, I haven't had the 12 fresh or aged, so don't have an opinion myself. I can't imagine that there aren't several others just as good or better. I think the can't-get-it-anywhere-else and brewed-by-monks aspect get this beer a lot of hype. Kris Herteleer (De Dolle) made an interesting comment to me over a glass of Fresh Fish, "Monks brew beer because they have to, we brew beer because we love to."

  7. As for Westy 12, to each his own, but I don't think the large number of people who love this beer are fascinated only by its rarity. For my part, I liked the fresh article best, and in my opinion it is way beyond St. Bernardus, which is itself a dandy beer.

    I do think the Westvleteren Blonde is excellent also. Surprisingly hoppy -- reminded me of the Little Dogs at Hair of the Dog: light and drinkable, but flavorful and hoppy.