Opus Dei

Thursday, June 17, 2010

About 5 years ago, I was given a gift of two bottles of very special beer: Sam Adams Triple Bock 1995 Reserve, brewed with maple syrup. 10 year old bottles of beer. At the time I didn't fully appreciate what I had been given, but I didn't squander it either. They were buried and forgotten from time to time, peeking through piles in our storage room to remind me that I had these incredible-yet-mysterious bottles of whatever, waiting for god-knows-what before I finally drank them. The Pope? The end of the universe? Who knew.

Five years of seeing and forgetting these beers passed by. But finally, unearthed yet again under piles of useless junk I'll never use, I decided this was the time. Why wait any longer? What magic could possibly happen that hasn't already?

Fighting reluctance and embracing anticipation, tonight became the night. It was time. A 15 year old beer was to meet its fate, brewed to be consumed, not cherished like a collectors' item or ignored.

First, a glimpse of the bottle. The container alone created an atmosphere; dark blue bottle made black by beer, gold script and a cork are the details that Jim Koch uses to let people know that while he cares about his beers, this is one he really cares about.

As I peeled the wrapper from around he cork, I could smell Samuel Adams Triple Bock before I even removed the stopper. Already, hints of chocolate, plums and molasses peeked from around the cork and reminded me more of a cognac than a beer. The anticipation was almost too much.

I finally uncorked the bottle (notice the cork, dark with molasses-y beer), pouring it with a certain amount of reverence into my pint glass. Triple Bock poured like syrup (funny, it's brewed with maple syrup), leaving wine-like legs down the sides of the glass. There was no head; too much malt. Opaque dark brown, no foam, no effervescence, this beer was more liqueur than brew.

The aroma nearly knocked me off my feet. Brown sugar met molasses and chocolate, lingering long and beautifully. Plums and dried cherries worked around a cloyingly sweet malt backbone, telling me to forget hops. There were better things afoot here.

With the same emotion reserved for Christmas morning, I hoisted the glass to my lips, hesitated, and drank. The taste was almost overwhelming; had I not figured in my own mind the power of this beer, I might have been overpowered by it. The flavors weren't delicate hints at tastes. They were full-on robust flavors. A huge aged-beef steak dinner to other beers' fish dish. Maple syrup coated brown sugar. Fine cocoa melted over dried sweet cherries. Smokey grains bathed in thick, sticky-sweet caramel malt. No bitterness tried to shine; any attempt at it would have been a farce to this massive malt monster. Even long after each drink, plummy malts and chocolate clung to my tongue like a sweet memory.

Like a full-bodied cognac without the alcohol burn, each flavor simply got deeper and more complex as Triple Bock warmed. The beer was everything I anticipated and more. Massive flavors didn't compete, they complimented. They were each a part of a whole picture and honestly not one flavor dominated over the others. The whole beer was dominant as a whole.

Part of the magic of this beer was the wait; time only added complexity to a master work. Would it have been the same beer 5 years ago? 10? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Triple Bock is so well-brewed that accidentally choosing now to open the bottle only added to the whole experience. It's an experience I'm glad I had.


Bob 2:01 PM  

You should drop this review into a letter and send it to Jim Koch.

I bet he reads and enjoys it after realizing how long you have waited to drink the beer.


Smitty 2:24 PM  

I met a local Sammy A rep...I might send it to him!

楊俊美 5:35 PM  


Mike 6:16 AM  

Wow. I remember when Triple Bock came out. It was a bold brew even then, without 15 years of aging.

A friend of mine has about a dozen bottles of Thomas Hardy Ale, 1996 (1994?) Vintage. This makes me think about the day we'll bust out one of those bad boys.

Mike 8:16 PM  

I sent this link to the friend I mentioned in the previous comment. Apparently your vintage tasting inspired him to visit the vault.

Anyhoo, here's the email he sent me, verbatim. I found it very entertaining and pretty damn cool. Hope you will too (looks like it'll take more than one comment to fit it all in):

Wow. Until I just read your email I hadn't thought about those bottles in years. Of course I knew your friend "has about a dozen bottles of Thomas Hardy Ale, 1996 (1994?) Vintage" but I really didn't know exactly what was in my cabinet. I packed that box in 1999 and put it in the back of a UHaul for the cross-country trip. I moved in to my apartment in October 1999 and placed it in the small cabinet above the refrigerator. There it sat, untouched, until TODAY. Your email prompted me to climb up, wiggle the box from the tight squeeze and place it on the counter. There is also a loose six pack sitting next to it that I had no idea was there.

Shall we open it together? I say we shall.

The layer of dust is ridiculous. Ten plus years in a tiny cabinet creates quite a messy package. And the package? A case of Pete's Wicked Multi Grain. The six-pack holder is Pete's Wicked Pale Ale. Ain't that a blast from the past! Damn, Pete was way ahead of his time. Too bad his Wicked ales are long gong.

I grabbed a wine opener to slit the brittle formerly clear packing tape along the top. I am curious what will be inside. I, like you, thought there was about 10 or 12 bottles. Not even close. 24 bottles carefully packed in six pack holders and stuffed with packing peanuts. You can't say I don't care about my beer. It is sitting on my counter as I type this. I have yet to pull one out. Let us deal with the six pack first.

As I pull the very dusty bottles from the holder I am amazed. Each one is bringing back interesting memories and curiosities. Why these six bottles in a separate holder? From left to right - Thomas hardy 1992, Thomas Hardy 1993 (2 bottles), Samiclaus 1994, JW Lees 1998 and a Brooklyn Monster 2000. That is quite a selection. Thomas hardy supposedly ages really well but how will the JW Lees fair? The Samiclaus? The Monster? I doubt the beer experts would recommend the cabinet above the ice box for proper storage. That is hardly a cool climate controlled environment. But I say screw the experts I got laid this morning! No wait , I meant to say screw the experts let's try them anyway.

Moving on to the case. If the six bottles already viewed were not good enough for the case what awaits us? Is it the buried treasure of Blackbeard? Gold from the lost city of El Dorado? Artifacts hidden by the Knights Templar? The moment has arrived. I will remove the peanuts and blow off the cob webs.

The first six pack has revealed six bottles of Thomas Hardy 1991. I guess 1991 was the last year the bottle had an actual medallion hanging around its neck. It is quite sexy. Each bottle is covered in gold foil with a gold medallion hanging from a red lanyard. The portrait on the front of the medallion is of Thomas Hardy himself. The label has a quote from TH's "The Trumpet Major" describing this delicious Dorchester ale - " It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artistic beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset...." Below the quote is a bottle number and year. As stated above, very sexy.

Mike 8:16 PM  

And the rest:

The next six pack has one TH 1991, 4 TH 1992, and a JW Lees 1998. Interesting, no? Why were the JW Lees packed separately? A riddle for future generations! The remaining 12 bottles are all Thomas Hardy 1992. The 1992 is quite nice although it lacks the elan of the 1991. The gold foil is a brighter more garish shade of gold and the medallion is printed on the label. Certainly, I am not swayed by such trivial matters and look forward to tasting it it with no less vigor!

And now on to the other beers found in this trove of precious valuables. The Thomas Hardy 1993 is the Silver Anniversary bottling. The fine gentlemen at Eldridge, Pope & Co.have decided to change bottles and increase from 6.3 ounces to 11.15 ounces. The bottle shape is different as well. The 1993 features a long delicate neck unadorned with the traditional foil and medallion. It instead comes with a small card hung from the neck by a silver rope. Inside are several quotes from beer expert Michael Jackson (RIP) including "It will in 5 years reach a perfect balance of sweetness and fruitiness, a far greater complexity". 11.15 ounces could be a bit much of this rich, malty ale. Certainly, a risk I am willing to undertake.

By odd chance there is a bottle of Samiclaus 2004 in my ice box. I don't remember why, where or when I purchased it. I have yet to have much interest in drinking it. Until today! What a wonderful comparison it will be to drink a 1994 and a 2004 side by side. Perhaps I will wait until season Noel to do this delicious pairing. The bottle from 1994 is far more interesting and done with more care than the 2004 version. The 1994 label reveals that it is brewed once a year on december 6th and then aged eleven months before bottling. It was brewed and bottled by Brauerei Hurlimann AG, Zurich. The 2004 is a product of Austria and is brewed and bottled by Castle Brewery Eggenberg and Feldschlossschen. Interesting. The label adds that the beer is perhaps the rarest in the world. (a stretch in this non-expert's opinion). It continues on to say that the beer matures with age and becomes more complex with a creamy warming finish. We shall see at the 1994 versus 2004 no holds barred death match December 2010.

One curious lone bottle of Brooklyn Monster barleywine style Ale brewed specially for the millennium. The label is surprising sparse and offers no insight into the brewing. The only thing listed the whopping 11.8% alcohol. I use the word whopping very loosely. The Samiclaus discussed above is a truly whopping 14% and the current crop of San Diego Double IPA's average around 10% AND come in 22oz bottles. Yes, I was a bit groggy this morning after an Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA and a Pizza Port Hop 15 last night. The Monster should be interesting but I wish it was a bottle of Brooklyn's Chocolate Stout. I do love that beer on a cold evening. You know cold - 59 degrees and below. Huzzah!

My use of the British "huzzah" brings us to the remaining two bottles, products of England, JW Lees Harvest Ales 1998. I have the least interest in trying these ales. I recently had a bottle and it failed to measure up to memories. I suspect it has nothing to do with the ale changing but the development of my palate to enjoy seriously over-hopped ales. The JW Lees tasted sticky and too sweet. I fear that will be the case with all of the beers in the newly rediscovered case of malty goodness. I suggest you take a few days off and come visit. We will watch World Cup soccer and work our way through a bottle of each of the truly well crafted ales. Shoot, the youngest of these ales is 10 years old and goes all the way to 19 years. I think we are in for a treat. As it is seventy degrees and sunny my tastings will have to wait. I believe I will head out for happy hour and enjoy an icy cold, frosty Sam Adams Summer Ale. The best on a warm summer day!

I hope you enjoyed my discovery as much as I did. I have to now pack it back up and await your arrival.
Stay thirsty my friend!!

Smitty 8:59 PM  

What a fun trip down memory lane, Mike! I really enjoued that email.

I had a bottle of JW Lees 1997 harvest ale, and I loved it. Since then I have looked high and low for some more Lees, but to no avail. How I'd love to get my hands on some...

Smitty 9:00 PM  

What a fun trip down memory lane, Mike! I really enjoued that email.

I had a bottle of JW Lees 1997 harvest ale, and I loved it. Since then I have looked high and low for some more Lees, but to no avail. How I'd love to get my hands on some...

Mike 5:35 AM  

Never tried Lees, though I see some at a local store. Tempted to try it out, though I, too, have become a shameless hop addict in recent years.

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