Sometimes I sit at home and drink old beers and marvel at the complexities on display — and that’s all I do. And so it has been in the last few days as my collection of Thomas Hardy’s Ale has diminished; a Fuller’s Brewers Reserve tucked into (I blame sitting next to John Keeling whilst judging at Cardiff last Friday, he just made me want to drink all my Fuller’s beers) — and then there were the two Cooper’s Vintages I perused at the weekend, one from 2002 and the other 2006. It’s not that I’ve been to Oz, but about five years ago the Covent Garden Porterhouse hosted a vertical tasting of all the Vintage Ales produced by Cooper’s. Present was the brewery’s Executive Director Glenn Cooper who told the assembled that the first Vintage was brewed in 1999. ‘I wanted to do something special, so the brewers made a quickie which proved to be a massive success in Australia and Vintage was born. The brewers then took ownership of it and they come up with variations on a theme every year — brewing this involves a lot of passion. We were the first in Australia to have a Vintage, the others just copied us.’ Cooper’s are best known for a Sparkling Ale, a brash and breezy, hopped and happy in the glass Australian ale, but I’m also over fond of their roasty-toasty stout that used to be in the UK.
Anyway, there I was on Sunday, back from walking the dog and a pint or two of Tribute (us country folk have such benign pleasures) and I thought why not go vintage? Funnily enough first up was the 2006 (I thought I would only have one). This was tan/chestnut brown in the glass and offered up a clovey, medicinal, dandelion and burdock character on the palate, appetising, chewy, contemplative; there was brisk carbonation, not too frisky, a young dog who has learnt the rudiments of obedience but still carries within the spirit of puppydom; it was very refreshing for 7.5%. Then, wanting more, I tried the 2002 — this was still and limpid in the glass, had a darker chestnut brown colour. There was fruitcake, raisin, marzipan plus a hint of berry (raspberry?) on the palate; again this was very refreshing, while its finish was dry with hints of the raspberry fruitiness coming back again. These were great beers, though I do think that the 2002 was starting to lose its edge. And just for the sake of it, because it was Sunday evening, I opened the bottle of Turbo Yeast Utter Abhorrence from Beyond the Ninth Level of Hades II that Stuart Howe in his Christian kindness had sent me — in a brief nutshell of madness I drank deeply. It was dark plum in colour, whisky-like, medicinal on the nose; thick and tarry on the palate, with a hint of woodruff, long lasting in the finish like a big bell clanging away. An imperious beer that I rather liked though at 23% I don’t think I could drink many of these.
Out of interest, here are my tasting notes from the 2006 tasting
Cooper’s Vintage Ale 1999, 7.1%
Reddish-copper in colour, it is cloudy in the glass. The nose is rich fruitcake, raisins, orange marmalade, warming alcohol and boiled sweets; a complex palate includes rich Bakewell tart, almonds, a dessert wine such as an orange Muscat. The finish is bittersweet and fruity. This is a rich and stately ale, which could be started to show its age.
Cooper’s Vintage Ale 2000, 7.4%
Saaz joins Pride of Ringwood in the copper. The colour is caramel brown; it is not as deep a reddish tint as the first beer. The nose is cherry, peachy and slightly peppery. There’s a big mouth feel, more sprightly conditioning on the palate and an almost gueuze-like orange fruitiness. Once again it’s a bittersweet fruity finish.
Cooper’s Vintage 2002, 7.4/7.5%
Pride of Ringwood plus Hersbrucker. The colour is orange-brown, deeper in colour than the last. The nose is perfumy, and joined by boiled sweets and a slight hint of woodiness. Toffee, caramel, flowery hints and sweet Muscat dessert wine all vie for attention on the palate, while the finish is dry and slightly sweet.
Cooper’s Vintage Ale 2004, 7.5%
Pride of Ringwood plus Hersbrucker, Saaz and Cascade. This light-chestnut red coloured ale is the most bitterest we have had. The nose is cherry, hop resins and the faint call of citrus orange. The palate stings with its bitterness, though balance is restored with fruit, hop resins and rich fruit jelly. The finish is dry and hoppy bitter.
Cooper’s Vintage Ale, 2006, 7.6%
Pride of Ringwood and Saaz, while the yeast strain they use for Sparkling Ale is used. They should give banana hints to the flavour. According the Glenn Cooper, the yeast they used before was in the ‘reserves’. The beer is dark gold in colour, and is blessed with a very perfumey aroma that has hop resins, orange fruit and banana in its trail. The palate is a luscious little swine with banana and bitter orange, while the bitterness count seems higher than before. It is very rich and fruity with a stinging bitter finish.
Cooper’s Vintage Ale, 2007, 7.8%
Pride of Ringwood and Saaz. This is reddish-brown in colour with a muted bubblegum, bananas, and strawberry ice cream character on the nose. The palate features hop resins, a tingly fruitiness and excellent zingy condition. The finish is bittersweet. This felt very young and would improve with age.