13 October 2009

Babies Need Beer Too

Getting older is weird. As is the natural progression of life, I've now reached the age where it seems like one of my friends has a new kid about once a month. I'm not the type for children, and I'm also not the type that usually handles gifts for these sorts of occasions. But recently I was struck with an idea so great that I'm finally committed to doing my part in welcoming the new little bundles of joy (whatever) into the world.

In the past few months, two of our very own Hoosier Beer Geek Knights of the Beer Roundtable have had newborns. I was thinking about the sorts of gifts that new parents are likely to receive - endless piles of diapers, tiny outfits, and target gift cards - all very practical and useful. But these aren't gifts that children are going to appreciate - they're gifts that make life easier on the parents. And that's not only fine, it's also dandy.

But I think you should know that I'm always thinking of the kids.

And that's why I've decided to buy them beer.

Yes, the perfect gift for a newborn must be beer! But not just any beer. I'm thinking of a beer that will stand up to aging 21 years - a beer that will serve as this child's legal introduction (at the age of 21) to how great beer can be.

But finding information on beers that have been aged 21 years was hard to come by. There are rumors of very old bottles of Thomas Hardy on various websites, but most accounts are of beers that are 10 years old, not 20-plus. What I was looking for is the surest shot - because you can imagine the sort of hype you might build up for a beer you've been aging for 21 years.

Instead of just winging it, I turned to a team of experts - from local folks to brewing superstars - and asked them: "Are you currently producing or distributing a beer (or beers) that you think will stand up to 21 years of aging?" Some suggested beers they'd had experience with. Others suggested beers of their own.

Stay tuned 21 years to find out how this turns out.

The Distributors

Mat Gerdenich, Cavalier Distributing:
I have no sure bets on this one. Sorry.

The stories I hear the most are Thomas Hardy and JW Lees. The oldest Stone Vertical Epic is only 8 years old.
Bob Mack, World Class Beverages
Thomas Hardy’s is out of production right now (last I heard), but the brewers claim that it will hold up for 40 years and they often advertise it for aging at least 26 years (they’ve tested batches to at least that length of time). I’m pretty confident in Samichlaus for at least 21 years also. Of course, I’d be concerned that both beers be stored upright in relatively benign conditions.

Hardy’s has been brewed since 1968 so in theory there might be some 41 year old bottles out there, but I’ve never heard from anyone who has consumed one of those in recent years. Stan Hieronymus has consumed some 20 year old versions that he was pretty pleased with, though.

I’ve had some Samichlaus that was 15 years old and it tasted nothing like an old beer. The oldest Thomas Hardy that I’ve had was about 12 years and it was remarkable. I’ve had quite a few vintage Samichlaus bottles and I’ve never taste one that seemed flawed.

I’ve had some Chimay Grand Reserve that was 20 plus years old and in my opinion, it was getting close to being bad beer, though some beer geeks in the group I was with pretty much fawned over it.

Frankly, a lot of people consume older beers and seem to get excited over off flavors that they associate with aging and I just don’t care for those flavors in new or vintage beers. The Hardy’s and Samichlaus vintage beers that I have consumed have never had “flawed” flavors in them. I have a friend who ages almost any beer and gets excited about the magnified off-flavors that aging can bring out and that sort of bother me, so I let him enjoy most of his vintage stuff himself.

In my opinion, I’d go with Thomas Hardy.
The Brewery Presidents

Blaine Stuckey, Mad Anthony Brewing Co.
I hate to admit this, but John Hill of Broadripple Brewpub and I were sampling brews one evening at BRBP, Brugge and the Jazz Kitchen. Between 2 and 3 AM we (John) thought it was a good idea to raid the cellar for a twenty two year old Thomas Hardy Ale. My nearest recollection is that it was Fantastic. [Mad Anthony has] aged ales available during the holiday season. The Oldest Mad Anthony stash is about ten years old - Old Crippled Bastard Barley Wine 2000.
John Bryan, Boulevard Brewing Company
I had a 40 year-old Rodenbach Grand Cru in Belgium in 2005 and it was amazing. I would look for sour beer, as these are already acidic in nature.
Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head
Any of our beers over 15% abv should last for that long. Also – the Life & Limb beer Dogfish and Sierra brewed together that comes out in November would be good for this sorta thing.
The Brewery Rep

Matt Steirnagle, Stone Brewing Company
I don’t think we brew or distribute anything that will actually profit from being 21 years old. I’ve sampled Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine and Stone Imperial Russian Stout aged cold for about 7 years, and though they were both still pretty good, it was clear they had already hit their prime, probably a few years earlier. I have tried a 28 year old beer that hadn’t completely lost its charm. It was Courage Brewing LTD Imperial Russian Stout, brewed in 1980. It tasted… Well, let’s say that my appreciation depended heavily on my love of funky beer, and on the thrill of ingesting something older than I am. In other words, probably not the sort of thing that would impress a youngster as part of their first legal beer experience. Thomas Hardy or J.W. Lee’s are both good bets. It pains me to say it, but Sam Adam’s Utopias might also be a fitting candidate. To really pull out the stops, one could buy an age-able beer each year, on the child’s birthday, for all 21 years and conduct a vertical tasting at the end.

As to what makes certain beers last way longer than others, it’s hard to say for sure. Packaging has a lot to do with it. There is no way of filling a bottle without introducing a little oxygen to the beer, which is what makes it taste stale after a certain period. Bottle conditioning with live yeast converts this oxygen to CO2, stabilizing the beer and extending the shelf life. Alcohol, hops, and acidity act as preservatives. Very old beers tend to take on characteristics of dried fruit and leather, so you’d want to age a beer which would taste good with, say, prunes and wallets. Hop flavor tends to die down after a year or two, so beers with a lot of “green” character aren’t usually suitable for long term aging. Sometimes hoppy beers ending up aging nicely anyway, but they are generally a lot better fresh.
The Danish Wonderbrewer

Mikkel Bjergsø, Mikkeller
My beer 黑 / Black is made for perfect aging. High alc% (17.5), black, thick and heavy.
So what did I buy? In the end, I've decided to wait it out, and base my purchase on the past experience of those who helped answer my question.

It seems as though Thomas Hardy's is the best bet, but one aspect of this purchase that I consider important is that the bottle of beer have the birthyear on it. Thomas Hardy's bottles all have a date, but since there is no 2009 stock to go around, they don't fit the profile.

Another issue with Thomas Hardy's is that there hasn't been consistency with who is actually brewing the beer - which might also mean there are quality control issues. Between the actual brewing and the bottling, it's really hard to say what we'd end up with.

Bob Mack stated that he'd had 15 year aged Samichlaus - and found no flaws. Samichlaus also puts vintage dates on their bottles. The only problem is that 2009 Samichlaus isn't yet available in the states.

But it will be soon enough. And we're not in a hurry. So the baby Knights (Squires?) will have to wait. I don't think they'll mind.


  1. I hoped Holly would have been born on 09-09-09 and share her birthday with Vertical Epic. 09-07-09 isn't as cool, but she'll be a good beer lover anyway.

  2. That is AWESOME.

    Here's hoping Alanna and Evalee appreciate the thought and effort by the time they reach their 21st birthdays!

  3. Like i said, I think it's a great idea. my wife's about to have our fifth...no one's bought us anything yet, so a beer for baby would be nice.

    You could always scrounge up a dark lord...that might make it 21. I agree about the J.W. Lees; but Samichlaus is a good pick. If all goes well, the arbitrary drinking age will lower and the beer will only have to last 18 years.

    Don't forget a couple of brews for mom and dad who will be feeling a wallet pinch now!

  4. Earlier this year I shared a 63 year old bottle of Ballantine Burton Ale. The beer was brewed in 1946, aged 14 years, and then bottled in 1960. How do I know that? Well the label says so, along with who it was originally presented to by the brewery. So how was it? Amazing! Strong flavors from the oak aging making it fairly dry. It was one to sip slowly and really savor. A very unique experience that unfortunately for the price of a single 12oz bottle, probably will be impossible to recreate.

  5. Nate, you mean my trip to Munster for Dark Lord Day 09 while 4 months pregnant wasn't in vain? Holly and I will definitely be sharing a Dark Lord 09 when she turns 21. However, we thought this year's DL was a bit thinner than previous years. What I really should share with her is a Dogfish Head 120 Minute since that's the beer that caused her conception. So sad I know that and it's probably too much information.

  6. I have a JW Lees from 1987 in my beer closet. Most random beer that I have. Just the kind of beer that I have yet to find the right excuse to drink.


  7. I go with a good quality Guezue. I've had some with quite a bit of age on them, and they hold up very well. Just don't forget the antacids when you pop it!

  8. My sister-in-law is going to school in Geneva, so I'm going to see if she can pick up two bottles of Samichlaus for my twin girls. I think this is a great idea.

  9. i've sampled some 20+ year old samichlaus and thomas hardy's. the samichlaus i think was from the late 88, and it was fantastic. i think the hardy's was a '91 and was pretty nice.

  10. The Big Tee...priceless. Not too much info at all. Beer has helped the birds and bees get along at least a few times in the conception of my 5 kids. I'll be at DLD again this year...hope to see you all there!

    (Yes...I thought Dl a bit thin)

  11. Matt S. (Stone), what a great idea to add to the "vertical epic" family -- that of reverse aging a beer (assuming it will have continuous production) and drinking them in ascending order.

    What an incredible flight that would be! And one I'd be happy to join in with my kid!