Someone said to me, why age beer, why store it? It’s to be drunk. It’s not wine or port. It’s beer. The daily dose of alcoholic cheer. Put beer in the dark and what’s it got to hide, continued the conversation, as if I were guilty of burying some personal, potentially injurious secret in the darkest and deepest recess of my mind. Psychological hoodooism. Freud or Jung? Why age beer?
In the face of such ignorance I can but laugh: why age beer? Fuller’s Vintage Ale. Lees Harvest. Cooper’s Vintage. Orval. All these boys have embedded themselves in the mockery of dampness that I have christened with the name cellar. Pride of place goes to: Thomas Hardy, of which there are perhaps a dozen, with the oldest going back to 1993 (bought in Safeway of all places). I also got hold of a case of the 1998 vintage when James was born — with a bit of luck he’ll give them back to me when he hits 18. I don’t think they’ll be his style.
So why age beer? I think the 2005 Thomas Hardy I tried the other day gave a good answer. It was magnificent, a ricochet of flavours about the palate, here some boozy currants, there almond paste, over there a rich orange Grand Marnier sweetness — all held together by the sort of balance that would be the envy of any yoga teacher. On the nose it starts off with burnt toast acridness, but before you can call 999 it’s tamped down by a sweet-sourness in the background, and then there are blackcurrants steeped in alcohol and an almond paste like calmness that is reminiscent of the sea after a storm. More fun on the palate: richness, light port sweetness, fiery alcohol, fruit cake, candy sugar, hints of brandy and that aforementioned grand old man of orange liqueurness. Its warm and spirituous, in the manner of a friendly hug (from Brian Blessed perhaps?) and the finish chimes away at the back of the throat like the bells of Notre-Dame announcing victory in Europe. It’s a substantial beer, big and bold, but venerable and capable of improving with even more age. I’ve got one 2005 left. So why age beer?