|Brewed every Feb. 24, this Belgian beer improves with age. (Supplied)
One of the things everyone should know about beer is that it changes with age. Beer has a shelf life and certain styles are more susceptible to the ravages of time than others.
For instance, hop character tends to degrade pretty quickly. If you purchase an assertively hopped IPA or Double IPA, it’s best enjoyed as quickly as possible. All of your favourite brands have a shelf life, from your favourite unpasteurized craft beer to large brands that are more shelf stable.
There are styles of beer that actually improve with age, and these tend to be higher in alcohol. There are Barley Wines, which mellow over time and allow for flavours to merge together. The classic example in that case is Thomas Hardy’s Ale, which seems to do best with four to five years of age on them.
Choosing a beer to age can frequently be difficult, if only because it’s near impossible to know exactly how old a beer is. Fortunately, I’ve found an exception to this rule you may wish to take advantage of -- for educational purposes.
The Het Anker brewery in Belgium produces a range of beers named Gouden Carolus. These are named after the gold coins produced during the reign of Charles V. In addition to the standardization of currency, Charles counted among his interests fox hunting and beer. It is said that he travelled with his own casks of Ale. The town of Olen, near Antwerp, has a three-handled pot in their market square, which commemorates the attempt to find him a proper serving vessel. Charles may have been more than mildly eccentric. He eventually retired to a monastery filled almost entirely with clocks.
Still, if you’re lucky enough as a brewer to have a local legend that involves a king, you are more or less obliged to run with it. Het Anker produces a beer called Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van Der Keizer Blauw, which is currently available across much of Canada. It is brewed every Feb. 24 to commemorate the birth of Charles V.
This takes some of the mystery out of aging beer; it allows you to know with complete certainty exactly how old the beer in the bottle is.
Nine months in, Cuvee Van Der Keizer Blauw pours a chestnut brown-tinged auburn around the edges with a significant pillowy head. The flavours have not completely incorporated. There is some mustiness from the hops and an aroma of pear or apple peel. It retains a certain booziness and the sugar used in brewing is fairly prominent. There’s a roundness on the palate that tends towards syrupy and a heavy caramel dominates the experience. It is, currently, a good choice to share with friends during the holidays and might best be served alongside vanilla ice cream at the end of a meal. It has not yet reached its potential.
The good news is it ages extremely well. Het Anker suggests it will hold on for a decade, unsurprising at 11% alcohol. Since it is very affordably priced, one thing you might consider doing for those hard-to-shop-for beer lovers on your Christmas list is provide them with two or three bottles and an explanation that they are to be aged.
Not only will it be a fun, educational project for the recipient, but it will doubtless provide some cheer on a cold February night a few years from now. Who knows? They might even share it with you.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at Saintjohnswort.ca. He has neither a monastery, nor clocks.