July 8, 2014

Port and Vintage Beer

Just got back from a trip to Porto, Portugal. The wine region famous for making their fortified cellar-worthy wines. As a fan of positive oxidation flavors, days of tippling decades-old Tawnys and Colheita’s was a real treat. I highly recommend that any fans of aged barleywines definitely take a foray into Port. The main thing that separates it from normal wine is its higher alcohol content and the increased amount of time it spends in the barrel.

And just like vintage beers, Ports age well for a variety of reasons, but foremost a high ABV (typically 20%) and a high amount of residual sugars. For those not familiar (i.e. me just a few weeks ago) the typical types of Port you’ll come across are:

Ruby: Fortified wine that has spent 2-3 years in a foeder (in a concrete tank for the cheapo brands). These have lots of young, fruity wine flavors, and very little oxidation (caramel, dried fruits, etc) aspects.

Tawny: A ruby port that has been further aged in a barrel. Typically for seven years, but also for longer. The bottle label should indicate the amount of time. In my experience, the older the better (and unfortunately, the more expensive). Most of the young fruity flavors of the Ruby have faded and been replaced by a rich oxidation character. And just like vintage beer, time has greatly mellowed the alcohol presence, which can be quite boozy in a Ruby. They are absolutely fantastic, and anyone serious about cellaring beer should check them out if for no other reason than to sharpen their vintage flavor palate.

Colheita: This is essentially a Tawny, but comes from a single vintage rather than a blend of multiple years. The label should read Colheita and the year. Only the best Tawny barrels and vintages become Colheitas, making these akin to Tanwy Reserves. Was able to try quite a few of these, and just blown away by the complexity. And as far as these things go, they are not outrageously expensive, being around $50-$75 for a bottle of 25 year aged.


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March 15, 2014

Vintage Beer Porn

I’m finally getting around to moving some photos off our camera, and thought I’d post a few from Bill Young’s epic New Years Eve Vintage Beer Party. Most bottles were courtesy of the ever generous Jonah Edwards.

Bottle of 1902 Bass Corker King's Ale

Blackberry Jam, blackstrap, tobacco, leather, and raisins. Utterly outstanding.

Courage Russian Imperial Stout

Tobacco, Smoke, mushrooms, and molasses. Drinkable, but over the hill.

Vintage JW Lee's Barleywine

Held up remarkably well. marmalade, honey and sherry. Notes of cellar must. Still like a bit younger (10-15 years)


bottles of vintage beer

A small glimpse of the offering’s at Bill Young’s NYE Party


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December 12, 2013

Jagged Mountain (hopefully) Brings The Vintage Beer Heat

It’s a little known fact among non-beer drinkers that many beers actually improve with age. Really, no different than a fine wine or a wheel of cheese. This may come as a surprise because, after all, beer has always been touted as a beverage that’s best drunk fresh.  But if a beer has the right criteria, namely high alcohol (at least 8%), or is acidic/sour, it ages at a considerably slower rate than your typical 5% pilsner. In a well designed beer, time enables unique new flavors to emerge, such as sherry, port, amaretto, dried fruit, or even vanilla. So, forget your experience with the skunky old Heineken you found in your garage; these beers evolve into something that can go toe-to-toe with a fine Amontillado or Maderia wine.

And it’s at one of the country’s most respected breweries, Kuhnhenn, a tiny brewery/B&B in Warren, Michigan, that some of these ultra-strong, cellar-able beers are being brewed. Located in a defunct hardware store, their beer is only available locally, but is so popular that beer geeks regularly make cross-country pilgrimages to get it. In fact, it’s so sought after that at one point, its Raspberry Eisbock was ranked the #1 beer in the world on beeradvocate.com. No small feat. And In 2010, their English barleywine, Fourth Dementia, won gold at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. We’re talking about some serious street cred.

The reason their beer is so exceptional – and most of their customers will agree – is because they typically age them for a decent period of time prior to being served. And they’re brewed with the correct technique and ingredients that allow them to stand up to time in the cellar.

But what does a Michigan brewery have to do with Denver? Well, as Denverites are well aware, we live in one the greatest cities in the world.  So, when Wayne Burns, the brewer from Kuhnhenn, decided to strike out on his own and open a brewery, it’s no surprise he chose our fair city. Along with Michigan-bred friends, RJ Banat and Randy Stinson, he opened the doors to Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery last month much to the excitement and anticipation of local beer buffs.

Housed in an old brick building at the corner of 20th Street and Lawrence (about three blocks from Coors Field), this brewery is a real beaut. With a warm pine bar, plenty of high tops, and windows overlooking the action outside, the location will clearly be a hit. An astounding 20 taps are installed and though only 4-5 are currently being utilized, they’re looking forward to having most of them pouring very soon.

Given Burns’ pedigree, it’s easy to expect him to focus solely on making age-able, high ABV beer, but the strategy is instead to brew a wide range of styles that will cater to the beer-diverse LoDo crowd. And unlike the one-and-done model of many new breweries, Jagged Mountain plans to have a series of “house” beers  available, in addition to rotating “experimental” offerings. The anticipated regular offerings include a black IPA, saison, Scottish ale, American IPA, and a double IPA, and what’s been on offer so far has clearly showcased that their brewing abilities aren’t limited to high ABV bruisers.

That being said, they do expect their niche to be their experimental beer. These will trend toward barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales, and eisbocks; and if Burn’s work at Kuhnhenns is any indicator, they’re going to be huge; upwards of 15-20% ABV. If this were to happen, it would certainly fill a local niche that has been lacking.  The only CO brewery making these kind of beers is Avery, but in extremely limited amounts (not to mention being fairly cost-prohibitive). Time will tell if Jagged Mountain can reach Kuhnhenn’s legendary status, but what’s been put out there thus far is a good sign. Here’s hoping.

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