Successes in ageing beer

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I've banged on before about keeping hoppy beers in the fridge and drinking them fresh to preserve the hop flavour and aroma in the beer. But not at all beers need to be drunk fresh, and in fact some benefit greatly from being laid down in a cool place to slowly mature and develop over months or years, like (cliche alert) a fine wine.

Fullers Vintage Ale is brewed specifically with ageing in mind and is probably the most famous and readily available example, but there are others out there which either specifically recommend ageing, or by their style certainly lend themselves to it. Beers with big flavour and high abvs such as Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, Strong English ales and even some big IPAs can all age wonderfully.

One beer which is certainly brewed to be aged is J W Lees Harvest Ale, a beer with a thickness and sweetness of body that has to be tasted to be believed and which seems to get better and better over time. The bottle I opened recently was brewed in 1999, meaning it has had 14 years in the bottle. Yet it was in fantastic condition and poured with a thick head that stuck around and a carbonation that was soft yet present, perfect for the style.

The combination of high alcohol content (11.5% abv) and intensely malty backbone, combined with that long slow ageing, give the aroma notes of brandy, musty wooden barrels, boiled brown sugar, caramel, and toffee.

The taste is thick, liquid bonfire toffee, molasses rum and caramelised banana alongside brandy soaked raisins and malt loaf. Rich, fruity, and delicious. A really huge mouthfeel and slick, chewy toffee finish has just a hint of spicy bitterness, that leans more towards fruitcake than herb or citrus.

It's a barley wine like no other I've tried and a truly surprising and impressive beer.

As well as this Harvest Ale, and the aforementioned Fullers Vintage Ale, one beer which I've found really improves with age is Stone Imperial Stout. Drank fresh it is a bit of a bruiser, with the super aggressive hopping giving the beer an intense bitterness which for me slightly gets in the way.

Give it a few years in the bottle though and that bitterness falls away from an upfront pine resin smack, back towards bitter dark chocolate - This combines much better with the body flavour of the beer and creates a more rounded coffee and chocolate flavour.

There's still enough bitterness to keep things in check but the beer is more rounded and balanced, and certainly has much more of what I'm looking for in an imperial stout.

So, where have you had success with ageing beers? Or equally, where has it not worked? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


The best dish I have eaten in a very long time

Friday, February 01, 2013
I was lucky enough to be dining in Naga in Kensington recently for our anniversary. It's a stunning looking restaurant with a reputation for great food that sounded right up the missus' street ( I was right).

We ate a lot of good food - tempura soft shell crab, fillet of beef stir fried with black beans, spring onion and chilli, black cod perfectly cooked and smeared in a sweet yet savoury orange miso paste - but of everything we ate there was one thing which stood out above all else, and it's that which I would like to focus on.

As seems to be the case with many an Asian menu they royally undersell the magic of a dish with its description (my two favourite dishes at Leeds' best Thai restaurant, Thai Aroy Dee, are 'pig leg with rice' and 'shrimp paste rice'), and the same was true at Naga. I'd not even considered this unassuming dish until it was recommended to me by an enthusiastic member of staff.

Duck and watermelon salad. It sounds so innocent doesn't it?

What it actually is, is the single best dish I've eaten in a very long time. The duck itself is of the slow cooked crispy variety, ah la duck pancakes, but done to such a high quality that you get meltingly tender meat and crispy skin in every mouthful.

The duck is then complimented by great bunches of Asian herbs (Thai basil, coriander and mint), chunks of refreshing watermelon, as well as slithers of cucumber, red chilli and a sweet and salty dressing which pulls the whole thing together.

The dish is just so perfectly balanced between salt, sweet, umami (the duck) and the refreshing, cleansing juice of the watermelon. It's a masterclass.


Oh, the beer? They sell Tsingtao and Beer Lao, but that's hardly the point.