Welcome to the Mashtun

Here we discuss everything that is Craft Beer: from exciting tastings and style guides, to homebrewing and close looks at different ingredients. Tune in weekly for articles dripping with beer geekery as my colleagues James Otey, Carl Crafts, and I explore the fascinating world of Craft Beer.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Unique Tasting: De Struise Roste Jeanne

For De Struise Brouwers 80th new offering, they decided to make a Belgian ale with a little hoppy pizazz. Enter Roste Jeanne (Red Haired Jeanne).

Jeanne pours a hazy copper with a huge but tight off white froth. The aroma holds quite the hop kick for the style- grassy and floral notes with hints of citrus. The malt character is presented nicely in the form of caramel and toffee, which complements the fruity-dough yeast profile nicely. The flavor is a super unique take on the style- tons of bread, dough, biscuit and toast complement the sweet caramel notes amazingly. The hop profile is also very well accounted for- way above average for the the style- floral orangepeel notes prevail. The palate is rich, velvety, supple, and almost creamy. Effervescence is low, allowing for a clean, crisp finish. A very unique take on the style- I highly recommend seeking this out and drinking it fresh.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kate the Great Day 2010

After months of anticipation, Mr. Blauvelt, Mr. Otey, and I recently embarked on an epic quest for Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout. The journey began on a beautiful early spring afternoon in picturesque Clinton, New York, where Mr. Otey and I both attend college. Due to my academic obligations, we started our six-to-seven hour drive at around four in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had been prepared for this day. The car was laden not only with overnight gear, but also with a couple gems of the beer world to share with Mr. Blauvelt as a precursor to the big day upon our arrival at his apartment. After stopping for gas, subs, and Red Bull, we hit the highway eager to arrive at the New Hampshire coast.

Making great time, Mr. Otey and I arrived at Mr. Blauvelt’s apartment in Durham, NH a bit before ten o’clock at night. We were warmly welcomed by Mr. Blauvelt and his girlfriend, and mere minutes after getting settled in we had snifters in place and the first beer of the pre-Kate-the-Great-day tasting uncorked. The lineup was an impressive one: de Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva, Hair of the Dog Michael, de Struise Pannepeut (Danish version), a hand bottled Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout, Firestone Walker 13, and Bells Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Stout. I will not go into details on the wonders of these beers; one needs only to look at our ratings on Ratebeer to see our opinions. It was a grand evening, and we headed to bed shortly after 1 AM, knowing full well we would be getting up a mere three hours later.

Mr. Otey and I, having barely slept, awoke at 4 AM and proceeded to eat macaroni and cheese and chug a Red Bull for breakfast. Mr. Blauvelt and his girlfriend and brother, both of whom had been so kind as to wake up with us so we could procure extra bottles of the precious Kate the Great, stirred shortly thereafter. Mr. Otey and I bundled up, fired up the Jetta, and ventured out into a dismally cold and rainy early New Hampshire morning. As we pulled into a parking garage that was unusually full for 4:40 AM on a Monday morning, we noticed several people walking back to their cars from the direction of the Portsmouth Brewery. As we passed we noticed they already had their calendar pages, and upon our inquiry they told us “get there soon, they’re almost out!”

This event deserves some detailed description. Only 900 bottles of Kate the Great were produced for 2010, with an equal volume available on tap at the brewery that same day. In order to organize the chaotic rush for those 900 bottles, the brewery devised a system based on tear-out calendar pages. The first 450 people in the queue that morning would receive a page and two guaranteed bottles of Kate the Great, as they correctly presumed anyone lucky enough to get a page would purchase the per person maximum of two bottles. The brewery had planned to start issuing pages to the people in line at 7 AM, start giving out bottles to those who received pages at 9 AM, and open the doors for the tapped Kate the Great at 11:37 AM.

As Mr. Otey and I walked up to the front door of the brewery, we saw a small line already receiving pages! We hurried to the back, made our way quickly to the front, and received our pages. We were already in the spring of the second year, meaning that pages 1-365 of the 450 had already been handed out! We immediately called Mr. Blauvelt, who said they were almost there, and the three of them arrived just in time to get three of the last available calendar pages. Apparently, people had been waiting in line since as early as midnight, so Portsmouth brewery had decided to start giving out pages early so people could get out of the cold until bottles were administered at 9 AM. As we huddled in the car to wait for that hour, we remarked on how lucky we were to get five pages. As we sat trying to stay warm, cars from as far as Rhode Island and Illinois pulled in, and one by one we saw incredibly disappointed Kate the Great seekers walking back to those cars distraught and empty-handed. Nearly everyone had underestimated the hype and anticipation that enveloped Kate the Great Day 2010.

After staying warm in the car watching TV shows on Mr. Otey’s laptop and being treated to a home-brewed scotch ale by the guys in the car next to us, the 9 AM hour for distributing bottles finally arrived. Because we were late in the calendar pages, we had to wait for the earlier dates to get their bottles ahead of us. As we huddled together in the raw and damp Portsmouth weather, more and more people started arriving. Soon hundreds of people were on the sidewalk, even crowding the other side of the street. Beer geeks everywhere were discussing recent trades, hot new releases, and personal favorites as they waited in line.

Finally our dates were called, and we filed into the brewery’s basement area. In a remarkably swift exchange I forked over my ID, calendar page, and twenty dollars and was handed a beautiful bag with two bottles of Kate the Great. Soon after all five of us had emerged victorious with bottles, there was apparently an accident where the table holding the remainder of the bags tipped, breaking several bottles. We felt even luckier then to have the precious beers in hand. Some people stood by the entrance offering on-the-spot trades for bottles like Foothills Sexual Chocolate and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, but we walked quickly by, knowing we wanted to bring home the bottles we had waited so long to get.

After briefly scoping out the line to get into the brewery for tapped Kate the Great that went around the block, we decided it would take all day for us to get in and that having the bottles was enough for us. After quick good-byes to Mr. Blauvelt, his brother, and his girlfriend, Mr. Otey and I hopped in the Jetta and began our sleep-deprived journey back to Clinton, NY. It is worth mentioning, however, that we stopped at Julio’s Liquors in Massachusetts on the way back; driving past on 495 and not taking advantage of their beer selection would be a crime. We made it back, completely exhausted and shocked that we hadn’t driven off the road, but ecstatic with the success of our quest.

In conclusion, Mr. Otey, Mr. Blauvelt, his girlfriend, and I tasted one of the bottles a few weekends later. It was, as we had suspected, utterly divine. Our ratings at www.ratebeer.com tell the full story. If you’re interested, our user names are craftycarl21, oteyj, and jblauvs. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout, by all means do so. It is worth the hype, and is truly a world-class beer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Excelsior! : A Taste of Ithaca Brewing: Le Bleu

Sorry for the Absence, Oh Faithful readers,
It's been a busy month, but lets embark again on a beer adventure.

Recently I was visiting my girlfriend's parents in Ithaca and I stopped by the Ithaca Brewery and tried some of their beers on tap, including a smoked porter that was really tasty.  I've had many experiences with this brewery before, all of them good.  In my cellar right now lies a Brute, a Golden Sour ale, that has won acclaim from beer critics around the country.  Ive also had the good fortune of trying their 10, 11, and 12, all anniversary beers, as well as numerous other limited releases from this outstanding, yet small brewery. 

   But Ithaca is a 6 hour drive! How and why would you go to such lengths to get a few bottles of beer?!?

Since I'm lucky enough to have people in the area that are willing to pick up some bottles, I didn't have to drive all the way form NH to Ithaca.  This is an excellent way to expand your reach when it comes to beer.  Not everyone has the luxury of being able to drive across the country for every limited beer release.  If you have in-laws or friends or relatives in the area of a brewery that you like, see if you can get them to go and grab you a bottle or two at limited releases.  This way not only are you able to expand your cellar but you are also able to share the experience with others.  A perfect example is Ithaca's newest release, Le Bleu.  My girlfriend's parents were able to go to the brewery and buy a fair amount of bottles.   I tasted the Le Bleu in Ithaca with them the next time I went to visit and it was a great experience.  Here are my tasting notes for that night:

Le Bleu pours a light rose with Tangerine edges, capturing the light.  Bubbles rise up in a champagne-esque effervescence forming a fizzy head that foams up and then settles to a film, never to leave.  The aroma explodes out of the bottle with plumes of sour funk, overripe berries, equine balls, and a fresh earthiness that excites me olfactorily.  Mouthfeel is bubble, light, and appropriate, very refreshing.  The Sourness immediately hits me, first on the tongue, then filling my whole mouth.  Its not an over powering sourness, more a subtle tartness with earth, mineral notes.  The berry ismore subdued than in the aroma but comes alive in the center, adding some sweetness to the sour.  What really makes this beer pop to me is the woody barrel flavor.  It reminds me very much of Allagash Vagabond in this sense.  A nutty woodiness with loads of lactic sour funk that emanates outwards and fills the mouth till the finish, which is a bit dry and woody.  While this beer is fantastic now, I cant wait to put one down, wait for the brett to dry out a bit, and see how much the sourness evolves.

Overall, an awesome beer experience - great beer and great company.   Does it get any better than that?   Not Likely.
  Remember, think about people you know around the country who could have access to beers that you don't.  Even if they aren't into beer, ask them about it.  Who know, you might start them on the road to Beergeekdom.

James Blauvelt

Barrel Aged Beers

Over the past decade, the world of craft beer has exploded to become exponentially more integrated in the life of a common United States citizen. On the way home from work or out of town for the weekend, one can walk into nearly any gas station or corner store and find several offerings available from micro-breweries hailing from across the US, Canada, and even Europe. Even five years ago, that person’s options would have been limited to products from macro-breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Miller. If lucky, a small array of Sam Adams or the like would be stuffed into the corner cooler. Beers commonly available now from breweries like Rogue, Sierra Nevada, and Unibroue would not have been so widely distributed, and for many other examples, the brewery itself may not have even existed. With the dramatic increase in popularity there has come a massive influx in new breweries like Cigar City, many of which have already garnered an impressive level of respect in the beer community for their accomplishments. In correlation with this spike in craft beer production and popularity has come a number of fads and new tactics in production of these beers, most notably the use of barrel aging to alter the facets of a particular beer.
Barrel aged beers are far more common in the craft beer world than many realize. While it would seem logical to deduce that barrel aged beers will be advertised as such, often this is not necessarily the case. Many times, beers like North Coast’s Old Rasputin XII or Brooklyn’s Black Ops have a version of the beer available in a form that was not submitted to such an aging process (regular Old Rasputin and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, respectively). In fact, lambics, an entire category of beer, are aged in oak barrels by definition. Other beers, like Lost Abbey’s Angel’s Share, go so well with the flavors imparted by barrel aging that the original versions need not say “barrel aged” on the front label (look up “angel’s share” on Wikipedia if you don’t know the reason behind the name).
This imparting of flavors is the crucial element that barrel aging adds. Firstly, barrel aging allows for a gradual oxidation of the beer. While Mr. Otey’s article below discusses the pros and cons of oxidation on a more scientific and detailed level, when done right, notes of sherry, various dark fruits, and other qualities can greatly enhance the drinker’s experience, both on the nose and the tongue. Often the barrel’s wood can influence the flavor, even conveying a tannic quality. Finally, the liquid that was originally in the barrel can have a profound effect on the liquid being aged; this is the most versatile way to change a beer. Not only can a brewer vary by the liquid involved (scotch, bourbon, wine, champagne, etc.), but the vintage of the original liquor can also make a big difference (see Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12, 16, and 30). With all of these variants and permutations thereof available, it is easy to see why barrel aging has become so popular as the accessibility and recognition of the craft beer world has skyrocketed in recent years.
One style of beer that utilizes the effects of barrel aging frequently and effectively is sour ales and lambics. As mentioned earlier, lambics are aged in oak barrels by definition. Within the style, however, the consequences of barrel aging can be very different. To observe this, one need look no further than one of the giants of lambic production: Cantillon. With beers like their Crianza Helena and Saint Lamvinus, the brewers at Cantillon create some lambics that have prominent flavors stemming from the liquid that originated in the barrel, such as cognac and Bordeaux or Burgundy grapes. The Saint Lamvinus even pours a dark pink hue, displaying the true effect the Burgundy barrels had on this beer. Other Cantillon offerings, like Fou’ Foune and Lou Pepe Kriek, are marked more by the fruits added and an astounding acidic funkiness. Brilliant examples of barrel aged sour ales hail from breweries far from Belgium as well, with some notable examples being Lost Abbey’s Isabelle Proximus and Cable Car and Russian River’s Consecration and Temptation, all from California. All of these beers I would consider in my personal top 50 or so, displaying the positive effect barrel aging has in the world of sours.
The style with the most hype surrounding barrel aging is undoubtedly the imperial stout. Many of the most discussed and sought after beers in the world are barrel aged stouts, such as Deschutes’ The Abyss, Bruery Black Tuesday, and Cigar City’s Barrel Aged Hunahpu. There is certainly reason for this. Though I am tempted to cite beers such as Alesmith’s Barrel Aged Speedway and Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout as well, I need only look to my favorite beer of all-time to make my point. Dieu du Ciel’s Peche Mortel en Fut de Bourbon Americain is the perfect example of an exquisite barrel aged beer. While I absolutely adore the original Peche Mortel (and make a point of buying a pint every time I’m in Montreal), the bourbon barrel version is even better. The barrel aging added another level to every single aspect of this beer, even considering the impressive complexity of the original brew. On the nose, the smooth cream, coffee, roasted malt and chocolate of the original were evident, but there was a complimentary addition of bourbon, booze that tingled the nostrils, and a touch of vanilla sweetness from the oxidation that made this beer truly heavenly to smell. This translated to the flavor as well; to quote my rating from RateBeer: “Vanilla and caramel mixes with the bourbon to create an entire second tier to the flavor that pairs extraordinarily well with the first tier of cream, coffee, and chocolate.” This level of balance between the basic bouquet of the beer and the notes imparted by the barrel aging is exactly what should be sought after when using this incredibly popular tactic in brewing today.
There is a reason the bulk of this article has taken on such a positive voice; barrel aged beers are generally excellent, and should be celebrated as a brilliant addition to the world of craft beer. There are, however, examples of mistakes, and I want to conclude by making sure people realize that. Perhaps the most egregious example of a poorly made barrel aged beer is Southern Tier’s Oak Aged Unearthly. I have no intention of slandering Southern Tier; they make great beer, including their regular Unearthly, which is a great Imperial IPA. The oak aged version, however, is cloyingly sweet, and completely takes away from the great hop character of the original beer. Another negative example is White Birch’s Barrel Aged AKA barleywine, which tasted basically of yogurt. This probably resulted from some sort of lactobacillus infection of the bottle. What I am trying to note is that there are hundreds of phenomenal beers out there that are not barrel aged; don’t submit to the trap of buying barrel aged beer because you think that makes it inherently better. Many prefer Regular Alesmith Speedway Stout to the original; same with North Coast’s Old Rasputin. Don’t go buying a beer like Weyerbacher Heresy just because it’s barrel aged; do some simple research, and you’ll come out finding another beer, barrel aged or not, that’s much better bang for your buck.

-Carl Crafts

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weekly Review: 2007 Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise

A weekly review from James Otey

Time for an unadulterated raspberry infused lambic. A blend of various 2 year old Cantillon lambic with ridiculous amounts of fruit...mmmm

She pours a beautiful ruby-garnet with a lively pink head that expediently dissipates with an audibly lively fizz. What is left is a thin pink hued veneer that sticks to the edges of the glass, with numerous tiny bubbles rising up from various nucleation points. The aroma is powerful and pronounced in a nasal burning, Cantillon-typical rude fashion. I love it. Raspberry puree abounds, as does pear and apple cider. These cider notes intermingles with the slightest acetic acid note to make for a mild vinegar quality. The BJCP says this acetic acid profile is undesirable, and I think they’re full of shit. Gratuitous earth, funk, farm manure, and oak are all decidedly prevalent. The first sip brings about the laceratively rude qualities I’ve come to love from Cantillon: Huge funk and puckering sourness is only slightly tamed by raspberry and further cider notes. A slight tannic oak melds into a swirling torrent of goat and horse balls- a desirable quality indeed (not sarcasm). The palate is incredible for the style: a nice full weight sits on the tongue, complemented nicely by a pillowy effervescence. The mouthfeel is slippery as the quaff takes place, and finishes bone dry and super attenuated. Perhaps the best framboise in my book- second only to Hommage- but I guess that's a hybrid and it would be cheating...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weekly Review: Cigar City Humidor Series Jai Alai India Pale Ale

A weekly review from James Otey:

This week I will be reviewing a new and interesting take on a older, but still revolutionary style: The India Pale Ale. With the advent of modern barrel aging techniques, it was only a matter of time before the subtle, spicy characteristics of cedar were used to enhance the flavor of an IPA. Thank's to the gentlemen at Cigar City Brewing for this bottle:

Without further ado-my review:
She pours a cloudy orange color with a noticeable haze and a magnanimous, beautifully proportioned white frothy head that is cappuccino like and topographic. It only takes a mild, playful splash to completely rejuvenate the head to a condition superior to the original pour. The best head retention I’ve ever seen in an IPA. The aroma is nothing like I’ve ever experience before in an IPA: though evergreen (in the form of pine and spruce) and orange-citrus come through obviously, there are unique notes of angel food cake dough and yeasty breadiness that prevail as well. The malt sweetness is very subtle, with notable incarnations of light nectar fruit, mandarin, tangerine, and ultra sweet tropical fruit sugars. The flavor is out of this world unique: at first I as met with doughy, bready, and caramel oriented malt sweetness with is closely followed by lightly resinous orange, peach, nectarine, and spicy pine. The bitterness is much more balancing than the aroma would suggest, allowing for a wholly delightful quaff. The arrangement of flavors is not only complex, but well placed with excellent levels of each. The palate is full for the style with supple effervescence and a caressing pillowy mouth feel. She finishes clean, but not resinous; smooth but not slippery. One of the most unique IPAs I’ve had to date- the cedar aging presents a unique facet that is hard to place a finger on, but is surely detectable. I was pleasantly surprised that the oxidation levels of the alpha acids remained minimal- good to have this fresh I suppose. This is my first Cigar City brew to date, and the trend will dictate many more in the future…

And the Style of the Month is.... Bock!

           Oh the unadulterated Maltiness of Bock.. This was the style of beer I first truly fell in love with.  Although I turned into a hophead, and now profess to be a sourhead, my head was originally full of rich malty thoughts.  The Bock can be dated back to the 14th century to the city of Einbeck, Germany.  In Einbeck they produced a delicious, mellow, light lagered beer that they exported across Europe.  The beer was enormously popular because of its clarity and distinct flavors, as opposed to the muddled brown ales of the time.  Another brewing city in Germany, Munich, lived under the shadow of Einbeck's success and sought to rise to the same level.  In 1612 Maximillian I invited Elias Pichler, Einbeck's head brewer, to the city to show them his brewing technique.  At the time, Munich was producing a darker brown beer that resembled a predecessor to modern day Dunkels.  When the brewers at Munich employed Pickler's technique they created a darker, stronger beer with the same clarity as the Einbeck.  It became very popular and is the predecessor of present day Bocks.

           Bocks get their rich Malt flavor from the inclusion of Melanoidins, which are produced when sugars and ammino acids combine at the boil (the Maillard reaction).  Vienna and Munich malts are considered high Melanoidin malts because of the kilning process that takes place when they are made. Another factor to consider when making a bock is using a decoction mash.  Decoction is when you take some of the mash and bring it to boil and then add it to the rest of the mash.  This causes the temperature of the mash tun as a whole to rise slowly from the protein rest to mash-out temperatures.  To increase the levels of melanoidin further you can add more decoction steps.

           Bocks can be divided into four main sub-styles: Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock/Hellesbock, and Eisbock.
  •          The Bock is a dark, strong, lager that pours a light to dark brown.  It is classically very clean, made with Vienna or Munich malts, and employs no non-malt adjuncts.   Continental European hops are usually used and the beer rarely exhibits any hops in the aroma and only the mildest ballancing bitterness in the mouth. Flavors are very complex, toasted malts and can include sweet and clean caramel malt richness and sometimes booze notes.  ABV hovers around 6-7%
  •          The DoppelBock - The first Doppelbock has been attributed to Paulaner Brewery in Munich.  Doppelbocks are stronger, darker incarnations of the bock and require an original gravity of 1.072.   Like the regular Bock, this tasty brew has no hop aroma, and just enough hop bitterness to ballance the complex malt flavors derived from decoction.  Doppelbocks tend to have a darker brown pour than Bocks with a boozier, richer nose.  Flavors are complex malts on the tongue with caramel and some light chocolate and sometimes slight flutters of roast.  ABV hovers around 7-10%
  •            The Maibock/HellesBock - The  Maibock (May bock) and Hellesbock (Bright bock) are classically brewed during the winter and released at the start of summer.  They tend to be paler bocks and take the rich complexity of the bock style and put it into a lighter, fresher context.  Hops are often added to increase this freshness, making the Mai/Hellebock the hoppiest of bocks.  The development of the Mai/Helles Bock was largely due to the pale malt revolution in the 19th century, and the first was created by Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  Following the craze of the time, they produced a pale lager but with all the complex maltiness that Munich was known for.  The slight difference between the Hellesbock and Maibock come in the color and flavor.  The Maibock uses Munich malts generally and tend to have a darker amber color and are generally bready, rich and toasty.  The Hellesbock pours golden and uses pilsner malts.  Decoction mellows it out into a softer malt character. ABV hovers around 6-7%
  •          The Eisbock - The Eisbock is a beer that has undergone a process of freeezing to remove water, thus rendering it more concentrated both alcoholically, and with respect to sugar concentration.  Generally these are made with the same ingredients as a doppelbock.  They tend to have intense, rich malt flavors and significantly more fruitiness then other bocks.  This fruitiness comes from the Munich malts and not from yeast esters.  Abv hovers around 9-14% 

           There are a lot of variations on these styles, as brewers tend to like experimenting with styles.  In my mind, though, the classical interpretation is far superior to most of these incarnations.  The addition of adjuncts tends to muddle the rich yet clean maltiness that is the trade mark of the style.  Chocolate bock comes to mind as a perversion of this purity.  The addition of chocolate nibs, to me, only serves to overpower the multilayered, complex maltiness of the bock beer.  Some may argue that it serves to add more complexity to the overall flavor, but in this beer drinker's humble opinion, there's no bock better than one that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot. 

    Some suggestions for those looking to delve into bocks -
  • Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
  • Smuttynose Smuttonator
  • Spaten Optimator
  • Smuttynose Maibock
  • Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Kulmbacher Eisbock
  • Schneider Aventinus Eisbock
James Blauvelt


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oxidation: Friend or Foe?

Recent fervor surrounding the aging of beer has brought about a revolution of barrel aging techniques, and a frenzy of internet banter. Beer geeks from all round the globe accumulate massive cellars and stockpile rows upon rows of different vintage brews in pursuit of aging their malt beverages to perfection. “Verticals” (beers of a certain type from every year’s production) are feverishly sought after, while people spend massive amounts of money on decade or older beer bottles. But why? Many will tell you that certain beers can only get better with age, and to some extent, they are correct. But mostly I believe they are not…
The prevailing opinion among beer aficionados is that the higher the alcohol (and generally sugar as well), the better the brew will age. Barley wines, Imperial Stouts, and strong Belgian ales most readily tend to fall into this category. With their robust ethanol percentages and high gravities, they tend to succumb to the woes of oxidation to a lesser degree. Many say that a few years on a good high alcohol barley wine or stout will ‘mellow it out’ and bring out ‘more depth in flavor.’ Thought the former might be true in some cases of highly hopped American style barley wines or imperial stout, I surely could not endorse the latter with any degree of fortitude.
Modern packaging equipment allows for no more than 50 ppb of oxygen in beer. It is quite amazing that brewing technology has brought us to this point, though perfection has still not been attained. Almost all types of beer will fall victim to this minute problem and will be faced with serious problems down the road with respect to staleness as a function of oxidation. This malice comes in at least 4 main forms: Lipid oxidation, hop quality deterioration, polyphenol oxidation, and Maillard reactions. Though there are dozens of beer specific variables that determine the nature of each of these forms of degradation, each is interesting in its own way.
It is true that some examples of high alcohol brews mellow out with age. It is especially true, however, for beers with a high percentage of bittering compounds such as α-acid, β-acids, and iso-α-acids. For a beer to take on the qualities required for a hop-induced perception of bitterness, hops must be boiled so as their bountiful bittering acids can isomerize and thus become soluble in water. It’s all downhill from here as the dreaded oxidation has already set in. Oddly enough, β-acids have largely already oxidized during both hop storage and during the boil due to the instability of their chemical nature. This evil it seems, cannot be avoided. Even the most minute quantities of oxygen (on the order of PPB) has an effect on the structure of α-acids and iso-α-acids, and as such time will only dull the flavors associated with a nice fresh IPA.  But how does this translate to a beer without the qualities of a hop-forward style such as an IPA or DIPA? I find that it is most noticeable in American style barley wines and Imperial stouts with high levels of α-acids and iso-α-acids. Because hop flavors tend to be the first thing to go when aging beer, those abrasively bitter barley wines will become much more sweet, allowing for the dimensions of the malt character to come out more fully. The same is true for imperial stouts, though the change isn’t as profound for me due to the already ridiculous gravities imperial stouts posses. Be careful though, for there is a sensitive curve: age too long and you will face other problems, which I’ll discuss in more detail later.
Despite many pre-supposition held by beer-geeks and the beer naïve alike, all beer does contain a small amount of lipids, or fat. The mass-marketed macro breweries are all pushing super light, low carbohydrate beer, which is reasonable due to the fact that the majority of calories in beer do come from carbs. It only takes a small amount of chemical conversion to create a mess of problems in a beer, and as such, it is useful to look on a smaller scale. Though many of the lipids related problems are largely unavoidable, they must be addressed as well. The specific problem lipid type for brewers and beer agers comes in the form of the unsaturated fatty acid. Through either enzymatic or autoxidative processes (both of which occur because of high heat levels during the wort boil), reactive oxygen species are created, which in turn damage double bonds on the fatty acid structure, finally leading to production of 2-nonenal. This final byproduct is thoroughly unpleasant and can be likened to aromas of oldness, staleness and cardboard. Luckily, the addition of yeast during fermentation mitigates this production to some extent, which is why levels of 2-nonenal are generally imperceptible. This process does, however, have implications of oxygen-introduction moderation during the brewing process as 2nonenal producing processes following the boil.     
Maillard reactions tend to be much more severe to the longevity of beer as far as quality is concerned. A Maillard reaction is any reaction between a reducing sugar (glucose and maltose as far as we beer drinkers are concerned) and an amino acid. Many positive features can come out of many of these reaction types, which for our purposes include flavors and aromas of nut, bread, toast, roast, and most importantly, melanoidin production. These qualities are gained primarily during the wort boil, but can also occur at elevated temperatures during cellaring. Interestingly enough, the production of melanoidins has been shown to have an anti-oxidant property, though the chemicals production is limited to the time of the boil, thus its positive properties do not get better after bottling. Maillard reactions can also create intermediaries such as α-dicarbonyl, and Strecker aldehydes, which are associated with negative flavor profiles. So what should you do to mitigate these factors? Obviously you should drink your beer fresh whenever possible, but if you must age, age cold.
Polyphenols are generally associated with negative flavor profiles, though the chemical is inherent in all beer. Through their oxidation with extended aging, these compounds can also become oxidized, leading to reactions with certain proteins that cause the dreaded oxidation haze. Depending levels and aging time, this can greatly affect the astringency and tannic nature of an aged beer.  
Can all these forms of oxidation be chalked up as necessary evils? Future research will suggest not. At its core, beer oxidation comes from reactions of OH- (which is highly reactive) and Peroxide (which has the propensity to decompose into a highly reactive free radical form) with ethanol, sugars, polyphenols, and fatty acids. This of course leads to the staling cardboard-like nature of your prized brew. So what about anti-oxidants? Could the famed health enhancer be used to make higher quality, longer lasting beer? It’s certainly possible.
Sulfite has long been recognized in the wine industry as having preservative, anti-oxidation effects. Sulfite and all forms of anti-oxidants act by quelling peroxides and metals that contribute to free radical formation. Hydrogen peroxide and hyroperoxide are stable enough for staling effects to be mitigated by antioxidants, though OH- radicals are not stable enough to be quelled, thus will react with ethanol to produce negative compounds such as acetaldehyde and hydroperoxyl radicals- yuck! Even if sulfite was completely effective at eliminating this issue, it tastes and smells horrible in high enough concentrations. Though other chemicals such as lactone have been shown to delay the onset of oxidation (read US patent 5455052), further study still must be conducted for the field as it relates to the brewing industry.  
What is the general theme of this article? There are certain cases where aging beer can have positive effects on your perceptions. Be careful though, because if you wait too long everything will become one dimensional, possible stale or musty, and contain homogenized flavors which just may be nasty. I suppose I enjoy a 4-year old Thomas Hardy’s just as much as the next guy- all I’m saying is take a step back and think about it. If you must cellar, keep it dark and keep it cold.
There are certain exceptions to the rules of oxidized beer, but you won’t be looking at any high gravity or ABV statistics: Enter the lambic and the gueuze. Sour beer in general has an interesting resistance to the phenomenon of aging, but more on that with my next update...

-  James Otey

Vanderhaegen, B, Nevin, H, Verachtert, H, & Derdenlinckx, G. (2004). The Chemistry of beer aging- a
      critical review. Elsevier, Retrieved from


Welcome to the Mash Tun,
Here I will discuss everything that is Craft Beer: from exciting tastings and style guides, to homebrewing and close looks at different ingredients.  Every week I'll profile a beer style, yeast, hop varietal, malt, or adjunct used in brewing.  Ill also be making several beer recommendations and you will be privy to my great hunt for rare and exciting beer!  You will follow me on Kate the Great day in Portsmouth, NH and Extreme Beerfest in Boston, MA. 
As a craft beer fanatic, I've only been drinking and hunting for it for two years, yet I have gotten access to some of the more elusive beers in the world.  I'll show how, without spending a fortune, and without traveling all over the world, its possible to expand your palate and build your cellar.  Prost!