December 01, 2013

Muskoka Winter Beard 2012 Cellar Comparison

Storing a beer for aging is a test of will power and patience. Beer Advocate has a great page that covers the best practices for storing.

The keys are cool (not cold), dark and consistent.

We started our 'cellar' in 2011, with the Winter Beard. We had just tried an aged Winter Beard over chocolate ice cream at a beer pairing dinner. Quite impressed, we asked the rep more about aging and decided we'd try it out ourselves. Unfortunately, our 'cellar' isn't the ideal by any means. Since our basement is quite lit up with windows all around and does not keep a consistent temperature over the course of a year, we commandeered a shelf in our second refrigerator. Since then one shelf has become insufficient and now the good majority of the fridge is being used.

When we aged the 2011 Winter Beard it was unplanned. We just happened to have two bottles and decided we'd not drink them right away. It was a tough test and we learned for the next year to buy four bottles. 2 to try right away and 2 to store. In 2012 we started that strategy and we exchanged the 2011 for the 2012 in our cellar.

This allowed us to directly compare the two vintages. The 2012 was very fruit forward. It was quite tart and the cranberry overwhelmed the chocolate notes. The aged 2011 was smooth and intensely chocolate. We quite enjoyed being able to contrast them both and were looking forward to doing the same thing with the 2013 version. However, Muskoka decided not to have a 2013 Winter Beard vintage and instead released the 2012 aged in their cellar.

Knowing that the brewery would have much more ideal conditions to cellar than we did, it was expected that there would be differences in how the bottles turned out. We were excited to try the two together, again able to directly compare them.
Left: Aged by us. Right: Aged by Muskoka
Pouring them side by side there was no noticeable difference in colour or head. Though the nose was the first indication that these beers would be very different. From our beer the cranberry was still quite forward on the nose. On the Muskoka aged beer the chocolate was the most noticeable. On our beer the tartness followed through on the flavour, with a subtle roast and chocolate finish. Much more mellow, with the chocolate more obvious than before it was aged. However, the Muskoka aged beer was quite the opposite. With the chocolate being upfront and the tartness coming in gently on the finish. It was incredibly smooth where ours had significantly more fizz to it.

The verdict, for me, would be the Muskoka aged beer is better. I enjoyed the bigger chocolate flavours. It really shows the affects of ideal aging conditions vs. less than ideal. However, ours still aged well and held up when remembering the fresh version of the 2012. We do have one more bottle of each, which we plan to age for yet another year. It will be another interesting side by side.