Last weekend I spent a night a Dave Bailey's Woolpack Inn. The pub is in Eskdale on the western side of the Lake District – the bleak, craggy side thankfully devoid of irritatingly twee Beatrix Potterisms.
As a city-lover, the silence, the proximity of sheep and the absence of a mobile phone signal left me somewhat unnerved. Beer came to my rescue as usual.
After warming up on two or three pints (including Dave's own "Tenacity", a complex dark red ale abundantly hopped) we embarked on a tasting of several bottles I'd brought from my secret vintage cellar:
Anchor "Our Special Ale" 2004. I confess I didn't have much hope for the ageing of this beer. I was wrong. Gloriously wrong. Compared to the young beer this had gone very slightly winey and posessed a less velvety mouthfoul: hints of port/madeira perhaps. The spicy aroma seemed to fill the room and even non-tasters were heard identifying spicy notes: cloves, cinnamon and more. The underlying orange rosewater flavour had also benefited from ageing - more coherent and altogether less cloying. No adverse signs of age such as flatness or oxidisation were detectable. A tremendous success which pleased me immensely because I've got a magnum of 2002 at home (bids in sealed envelopes please).
Alaskan Smoked Porter 2003 – last of a case given to me by the importer for looking after brewery owner Geoff Larson when he visited London. Geoff Larson himself gave me a half case of 1999 vintage but they've all gone. Although I'm not averse to smoked foods I've always found the smokiness of this beer overwhelming when it's young. Fortunately it softens with age, as we discovered. The usual slight vinousness (vinousosity?) effect had taken place but the only jarring note was a hint of oxidisation evident in the finish. Carbonation was unusually high.
Sierra Nevada Celebration 2005 (I think). I'm not averse to bitterness per se - I wouldn't be a beer drinker otherwise but I've always found Celebration's bitterness a bit much. Also the underlying liquid barley sugar flavour I find too rich. Fortunately this is a beer that benefits from ageing - as long as you can bear to give it. From this 4 year old we got a big waft of typically American hops. They were evident in the flavour but in a whole lot more agreeable fashion than young SN Celebration. The body was of pithy seville orange in a marmaladey way. Although carbonation was good we couldn't coax a head on the beer.
Orval v. Orval. I took along a bottle that had been hanging around for three years or more - or so I thought. It transpired it was only six months older than the young bottles in Dave's fridge dated 10/08. The young version: fresh zesty typical Orval but I sense that it's not going through a classic phase - 5 or 6 years ago it seemed to have more oomph, it lacks body now. Six months older: aroma and zestiness gone, suprisingly dull, very disappointing.
Gueuze Girardin 1882 "black label" (been in my cellar 2 or 3 yrs) I anticipated that by this stage we'd need a contrast for palate cleansing purposes. Instant aroma of old apples going a bit brown and wrinkled. The ciderishness in flavour was accompanied by woodiness and mustiness - and a heap of sourness. I don't know about Dave but it did the trick for me - it perked up my senses and gave me a brief boost and put a smile on my face.
My memory's vague, but I think we may have had another pint of Dave's own at this point.
My room was rather splendidly equipped with a huge triple bed and a double spar bath thingy. My sozzled sleep was almost enhanced by an entertaining dream involving the triple bed but a jolt of dehydration-induced cramp in my left calf cut it painfully short.