An article by Noah Forrest
When keeping a beer cellar, you generally want to fill it with bottles that can stand the test of time. However, that’s only if you can muster the self restraint needed to avoid drinking the beers you actually intend to age. It’s the ongoing internal struggle of the cellaring beer-geek. That being said, you can also have the opposite problem, where you collect too much beer, essentially becoming a bottle hoarder. I somewhat fall into this second category. Luckily, for the purposes of this article, I reduced my cellar just a bit. Today, for the fourth installment of Verticals & Variants, I examine three different vintages of Double Tempest from Amsterdam Brewing Co.
Aging beer is fun, but sometimes fails. This can make things frustrating. However, it can also provide a delicious experience, and it’s always educating. You certainly need to know what beers age well verses which don’t. There are simple rules to follow, like don’t ever age an IPA and if you have a beer that’s 17% ABV, chances are it will be fine with some time on it. On the flip side though, you can get pretty analytical, getting down to real specifics in an effort to study whether you think a particular beer will do well over time.
If you are interested in aging beer, I highly recommend the book Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson. It really gets into the details you should know when assessing whether something can be aged.
Imperial stouts are often seen as great beers to age. And this is true. However, in my experience, and from what I’ve read, it can also be a bit of a challenging beer to sit on for too long. Because of the abundance of highly roasted malts, which provide that bitter, dark roasted coffee-like flavour, imperial stouts will produce fruity and sherry-like flavours sooner than other styles (like barleywines). This can reduce the aging potential. As well, it seems that when autolysis occurs (yeast degradation that causes meaty flavours to arise), it can be particularly off-putting in stouts because it creates a marmite or soy sauce flavour, which carries a savoury umami component.
That being said, many (if not most) imperial stouts do well, or even improve with a year on them, and many can age for two to three years without issue – some can age much longer. That was my impression when I tucked away a bottle of Double Tempest 2013 in my cellar several years back. I was confident that the 14% ABV, residual sweetness, and tremendous body would hold up for years to come. And, as time went by, I tried getting my hands on each new release (although the ABV was reduced to 11.9% in subsequent years). I was successful, with the exceptions of the 2014 edition, which I missed out on.
Amsterdam Brewing Co. is a Toronto based brewery that has existed since 1986. Several years back I recall their IPA Boneshaker being a staple go-to beer for me every time I visited the LCBO. As well, they have several products well stocked on the shelves regularly. That being said, Double Tempest is available at a brewery only release once a year, and sells out quickly. It’s a big, bold and luscious Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon barrels for close to a year. I’m very fortunate to have landed these bottles. So, let’s get on with it!
Double Tempest 2013
This bottle of Double Tempest 2013 has been sitting in my cellar for several years, and even came along with me during a move. The nose wafts intense bourbon notes, loading my senses with big vanilla and oak aromatics. Fruity components come out as well, lending black cherries to the mix. Lots of chocolate notes mix with the bourbon goodness, while some sherry and leather aromas come through as well.
Wow. At first this comes off a tad sweet, but the sugars are immediately cut down by the sharp ethanol burn. Like the nose, the bourbon and barrel flavours are huge and lead the way.
The body still remains robust given its age, and carries a great silky mouthfeel. Caramel, chocolate, and light roasted coffee, all measure against the big vanilla bourbon complexity. Again, it is a bit fruity as well, with cherries and lingering berries.
The age has done this well. The sherry notes are subtle, but add layers of complexity. There are no oxidized off flavours, and instead everything functions perfectly together, with the flavour components melding into each other, creating a brilliant barrel aged beauty.
Double Tempest 2015
This 2015 Double Tempest certainly smells younger, but not too harsh or astringent. Instead, the aromas have blended together nicely, with huge bourbon notes, carrying big vanilla and a strong oak character. It’s spicy, floral, and has an anise quality that I didn’t observe in the 2013.
Up front, just like the 2013, the barrel notes are impressively prominent, with loads of vanilla, oak, and all kinds of bourbony goodness. The body is a touch thinner, but still very robust, and the sweetness is definitely more apparent, though not cloying.
Dark chocolate and coffee flavours integrate with toasted caramel, dates, and some sherry-like fruit complexities. The spicy oak component is huge and keeps returning to the front of the flavour profile after each sip. It finishes pretty clean all things considered, leaving caramel and vanilla bourbon flavours on my palate before I dive in for the next sip.
Double Tempest 2016
The nose wafts some fruitier notes off the bat, when compared to the older vintages. The barrel is far more subtle, only adding hints of vanilla and oak to the aromatic profile. It smells pretty young overall, with rougher edges, and sharper spirit notes.
The palate matches the nose. It is much more more jagged overall, with a heavy booze burn, coupled with a more intense, one-dimensional bourbon flavour. The body also comes off a bit thin. There are lots of dark roasted coffee flavours, mixed with cacao and slight port or wine-like fruitiness, which lends dates and raisins to the mix.
The beer drinks quite dry. This is helped by how young it is, carrying a heavy hop bitterness, coupled with an slightly astringent ethanol finish. Overall though, I’m not a huge fan of this particular vintage. I think it will improve with some time on it, but in my opinion, it will never be as good as the two previous vintages I spoke of above.
This was an extremely positive cellering experience. As much as I age a lot of beer, I’m also of the mindset that fresh is often best. However, in this case, the 2013 drank beautifully, with absolutely no negative oxidation qualities. Instead, is was still rich and robust, but without the sharp flavours of a young beer, and carrying a fully melded flavour profile you could only produce with time. The 2015 was also drinking nicely, with some sharper notes, but still beautifully balanced and downright delicious. This years (for me) was disappointing, but will hopefully improve with some time on it. If you are in Toronto next year when the 2017 drops, you should definitely get in line!
An article by Noah Forrestt
Photography by Noah Forrest