Last month’s column went over some of the basics of cellaring beer and gave an overview of a few styles that lend themselves to aging. Now it’s time for recommendations for starting your cellar. Between having some great local breweries and some legendary Old World offerings available here, there’s no shortage of cellar gems to get you on your way.
Barley wines are enjoyable sippers anytime. When they’re new, they’re big, boozy and sweet, often with notes of toffee, plums and some heat going down. Over time, the heat wanes and you can get more vinous, sherry-like flavours. Year after year, Alley Kat Brewing’s Olde Deuteronomy and Blue Monk Barley Wine from Brewsters have been top-notch, locally made options. Bent Stick Brewing came onto the Edmonton scene more recently, in 2016, but its Resolutions barley wine has become a worthy annual pick-up as well.
When fresh, imperial stouts usually start out big and bold with roasty coffee and dark, bitter chocolate. These traits have their fans, but I prefer aged imperial stouts; the big coffee flavour usually mellows into something more like a medium-roast brew and the chocolate can take more of a front seat. KGB Russian Imperial Stout from Edmonton’s Elbeck Brews started out as an award-winning homebrew and last year won a gold medal in the extra-strong beer category at the 2018 Alberta Beer Awards. Ichorous Imperial Stout is available year-round from Blindman Brewing in Lacombe, which has also made an occasional barrel-aged version.
We’re lucky here in Alberta to get many of the world-class beers brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium. Chimay Blue and Trappistes Rochefort 10 are superlative examples of the strong, dark ales the Trappist abbeys are known for. Fresh or aged, both are wonderfully complex with dark fruit like raisins and prunes, caramel and some spiciness. I enjoy both beers fresh, but I find Trappistes Rochefort, in particular, has a noticeable yeasty characteristic that softens nicely over time.
Stephen Bezan, beer manager at Sherbrooke Liquor, and beer writer Don Tse provided some tips for last month’s column on aging beer, so I went back to them for their recommendations. Although I spoke to Bezan and Tse separately, they both recommended the same beer without hesitation: Orval. Orval is a pale ale that comes in at 6.9 per cent alcohol, which sets it apart from the stronger and darker styles the Trappists are best known for. It’s also a bit hoppy, but what makes it a cellar star is that it’s bottled with a dose of the wild brettanomyces yeast strain. “Brett,” as it’s known, can take a beer in so many different directions as it ages, adding layers of complexity that make for a fascinating experience if you have the patience to lay down some bottles. “Orval changes so dramatically. Sometimes you get these leathery and barnyard traits. Sometimes, it’s pineapples and tropical fruit,” Bezan says.