Saturday, August 23, 2008
A friend of mine recently gave me some old beer he had going to waste in the back of his fridge. In the course of a conversation, it was revealed that some folks had brought beers to his place for a party, and that the brews had been sitting there, all alone and quenching no one's thirst, for a while. The time had come, he declared, to toss them out.
I might as well have been a dog rescuer who'd just heard an adorable Shih Tzu was about to be put down. Immediately I volunteered to take the unwanted beers off his hands. My friend's bemused reaction bordered on disapproval, as if I had just betrayed a most pathetic length to which I'd go in the name of alcohol. These beers, he informed me, were most certainly ancient and well past drinkable.
I had to calmly explain that, first, beer does not spoil – many beers can become fairly unpleasant after enough time, but not harmful to drink. Secondly, I was interested in sampling these relics not in the name of catching a cheap and dusty buzz but as an educational experience. The beer geek in me (he has a say in a lot of things) wanted to know what effects age had wrought on these beers.
Receiving my friend's castoffs, I noted that they did indeed have a couple years on them. A bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager bears a "best by" date of September 2006. Assuming all of the beers took up residence in my friend's fridge at the same time (and I'm lead to believe they did), and assuming the Sam Adams was not on in years to begin with, that would put these brews at over two years old.
The haul included that Sam, a Carmel Wheat Beer (both of which I've not yet drank), a woefully insipid Bert Grant's Mandarin Hefeweizen, a Heineken with solid floaties and an unpleasant aftertaste (and of course I'm not blaming the beers here – these flaws came as no surprise), and two Guinness Draughts.
As I said, I assumed the age on these beers was two-plus years. Only the Sam has a date. One Guinness (pictured) has a code that appears to read "02L3." Not sure what, if anything, that means.
Now, considering the apparent age of this Guinness and its low alcohol (around 4.2% ABV), I'm a little surprised and pleased to report that it's not too bad. OK, so the bottle and bottle cap wore a little fridge grime. And the malt does seem to thin out some into an oxidized finish (something I'm not terribly sensitive to anyway), but then Guinness is also light-bodied already, creamy nitro-widget notwithstanding. The roast is there but not terribly strong, but the beer still retains a fair amount of bitterness (this being something else that typically wanes noticeably in older beers).
Would I have guessed this Guinness was so old? No, probably not. No doubt the fact that it and its brethren have been languishing in a refrigerator, and not on a store shelf or in a closet, has helped. On the other hand, let's not forget that the Mandarin Hefeweizen and Heinie presumably shared quarters with their Irish friend here.
I'm not about to recommend Guinness Draught as a cellarable beer. Yet, nor will I advocate that an aged sample should live out its final moments getting to know your kitchen sink. Remember, alcohol abuse is a crime in 17 states.