You’re Only as Old as You Taste: That Time I Ruined Bottles of Hopslam Because SCIENCE!

bottle beard eyes large

So I’m probably kind of crazy.

I recently celebrated a birthday which concluded an experiment a couple years in the making. As my “special” birthday beer, I drank a Hopslam (yay!) that was two years old (boo!).

The reason? Why not? I’m doing this for you, dear reader.

When it comes to aging beer, I always point people to this handy set of rules supplied by the folks at Dogfish Head, which point out general guidelines for aging beer. The number one guideline they provide appeals to me: “a little experimentation goes a long way.” (Note: generally speaking, higher ABV beers are best for storage, but IPAs are not ideal because of the importance of hop freshness.)

Rudimentary searches online suggested that by aging Hopslam, which is made with honey, I may end up with some kind of mead-like drink, so what the hell?

Let’s put on our lab coats and hope time provides more of a eureka! moment rather than evil, maniacal laughter.

These notes were archived the day I drank each bottle and are copied/pasted below for this experiment.

2012-Bells-hopslam-ipa-india pale ale-beerFresh

January 2012

As expected from a just-bottled batch, the aroma and taste were amazing. Rosemary and passion fruit were noticeable on each sniff while the beer’s mouthfeel was juicy, citrus-wet and full of mango. The sweetness of the fresh hops mixing with honey offered a near bubble gum smell and taste. Closing my eyes, I could actually picture funfetti cake, for what it’s worth.

The freshness of the hops was extraordinary, as expected. Huge amounts of foam helped push all these aromas right out of the glass and into my nostrils.

One year

January 2013

Time hasn’t been too kind. On its pour, the 2012 HopSlam had a non-existent head, maybe due to biological breakdown. I could barely smell any hops. There might have been a touch of that mango still kicking around, but nothing truly discernible. If anything the beer provides some kind of vegetal quality.

The taste was interesting, however. While the bitterness of the beer definitely enhanced from all the residual hop freshness going away, the honey it was brewed with really took a step forward. It was sweet up front and a bit bittingly bitter on the finish with few flavors in between. It never reaches anything near sugary sweet or the fruit and candy like before.

Two years

January 2014

Happy birthday to me?

Bells-hopslam-ipa-india pale ale-beer-2014There’s foam! But I can’t smell hops. At all. Maybe, if I strain, there is a slight touch of some kind of Noble hop-like aroma I’d equate to floral. It mostly just carries smells of grainy honey and corn tortilla.

The taste is even more disappointing, although this beer is certainly trying to make itself worthwhile. Tastes of orange and strawberry Starburst candy are detectable, but an overall bitterness just washes each away. Trying to nail down the flavor, I’d argue it tastes a bit like stale cardboard with honey drizzled over it for flavoring.

Yikes.

Conclusion

So … that went downhill fast. Or is it slow? It’s been two years.

I should add, however, the two-year old beer was not undrinkable. It just tasted like some very average IPA … that may have sat too long on the shelf at your bottle shop. It wasn’t off-putting, but given where Hopslam starts, it’s disappointing, but certainly not surprising, where it goes.

Here are a couple on-the-fly reactions I shared on Twitter as I was tasting the two-year old bottle:

What do you think? Have you done any crazy experiments with beer – aging or otherwise?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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9 thoughts on “You’re Only as Old as You Taste: That Time I Ruined Bottles of Hopslam Because SCIENCE!

  1. I’m a mead guy, and I know it takes a TON of honey to get that prominent honey flavor. It’ll get stamped out by anything – fruit, hops, spices. Kind of impressive that it showed up after some aging though.

    Honey (and mead) itself ages quite well, so I think you’re seeing the break down of the alpha acids and some oxidation (yes, even through the brown glass).

    Cool experiment either way. Thanks for playing olfactory and gustatory guinea pig!

  2. I’m often curious about which aging guidelines are really important. For example, how important is it to maintain a temperature of say 65 F, vs. storing the back of your closet. It seems to me the only way to answer those questions is for people to try it and report their results. So thank you for sharing your results with the rest of us.

    • … I suppose I left off some of that data that may be important.

      All my “cellar” bottles are stored at the back of a pantry on the ground floor of my home. I wish I could give an accurate temperature reading, but I suspect the general air temp of that area is in low to mid 60s, given its location and where we maintain our house temperature.

  3. I went a little storage happy with bottles of the 2013 batch of Green Bullet. I was dismayed when I noticed not one but two 22oz bottles of Green Bullet in my wine fridge a week ago (first released back in September of 2013). The brewery may think that they are still good (Palate Wrecker says it is good for four months on the bottle) but the intense hop flavors that made it so amazing were clearly gone.

    My guess based on other brews I’ve had is that 2 months is a good cutoff from brewing before you should drink a lighter colored hop-forward brew. Sadly, few bottles ever show the date of brewing but instead show me some drink by date. Beeradvocate is full of reviews of beers by people who thought some amazing double IPA was worthless because they bought a bottle somewhere that had gotten too old. Hell, if the first time I had Green Bullet was with these old bottles I would never touch it again!

    Hopefully 2014 will be the year in which brewers start to print bottled on dates on the bottle. It doesn’t matter as much with malt-forward brews but the last thing I want to taste in Green Bullet is the malts.

    On the other hand, I pulled out a 2011 bottle of Vintage Ale from Trader Joe’s (released in November 2011) last night and it was delicious even though I stored it on its side. I tend to take the position that unless a brewery puts a clear indication on the bottle that it is meant to be aged I won’t bother. I need to get another wine fridge and take out the shelves so that I can start to store beers properly for aging.

    • Sounds like you’ve got a good situation going on with your storage space.

      I find it very annoying that one of the biggest, ongoing gripes I hear from beer nerds such as myself is failure to label either a “bottled on” or “drink by” date. It would make me feel so much more comfortable as a customer to have that.

      Over the weekend I was at a shop and looking at a six-pack of IPA cans. I’m turning the set up and down and all around trying to find SOME kind of indication, but nothing. I’m hoping for the best, especially because I want to drink it as the brewery most surely intended!

      • Yeah my wine fridge holds 28 bottles but it is usually half full or more with beer. I keep them at a good temperature for red wines and so they only need a little bit of time to chill before drinking. They are stored on the side though so it isn’t ideal for long term bottle aging.

      • That’s still excellent! My brother does the same thing with wine fridge – he’s not as picky about side storage, but it’s a perk I’d love to have.

  4. Pingback: Imperial IPA Bracket Challenge | Pat's Pints

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