Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Coopers, and time.....

Cooper's Sparkling Ale holds a special place in my beer-loving heart. I had my first 'hand grenade' as an eighteen year old, quickly followed by the epiphany of draught Cooper's at uni (where 1st year Maths allowed me to appreciate the ABV-per-dollar metric).

Even today, Cooper's "red" is my beer of choice at my local RSL. I don't think it has a particularly strong following at this venue, however. The latest bottles have a "Best After" date of June 2010. I think this is to my advantage, however.

I reckon that there is a distinction between recent ales (say, 1-2 months best after date) and those that have an extra 6 months in bottle. As it ages, there's less hop, but more mellow malt. Less Aussie Pale, more English Pale....

I'm not suggesting one is better than the other - just different. But is this what Cooper's intend ? And what about those ales they do intend to be cellared ?

So, decided to do the journalistic thing and go to source:

{email to Cooper's, 22 Feb 2011}

Dear Cooper's,
I have a couple of questions regarding Cooper's Sparkling Ale, and aging beers.

• Your FAQ mentions that “The best after date was introduced to ensure that the minimum two weeks required for secondary fermentation has expired before the bottles are distributed for sale.” Does this specifically mean that the beer was brewed 14 days prior to the Best After Date ?

• I drink Sparkling Ale at a local club, where in the one sitting will get different best after dates (e.g. six months difference). I detect in the younger beers a more noticeable spicy, herbaceous attribute of the hops. The older beers seem to have this characteristic subdued, but have a more English pale ale malt profile. Is this what Coopers expects of the Sparkling Ale ? What is the maximum age you recommend before the ale would be considered (in all likelihood) ‘past it’ ?

• You also recommend that the Stout and Vintage ales will benefit from some aging. In the case of the latter, I have tried different vintages at different ages (including, recently a 1998 and 1999). There is of course great bottle variation, but the general experience (from those that have survived the trip) is of preserved fruit, sherry, nuttiness. Carbonation may have all but gone, or still remain in decent quantity. So there is quite a variation. Do you have a profile of how you expect the vintage ale to appear after 2 years, 5 years, etc ?

• Other breweries have taken a leaf out of Cooper’s book by extolling their ales as being age-worthy. The newly minted Endeavour brands spring to mind. When I tasted these beers, I disagreed. There did not appear to be the body, the hops, the alcohol that one would assume would be necessary for a beer to be considered cellarable. What components of the beer does Cooper’s believe contributes to aging ? Is it the preservative qualities of the hops, the yeast, the alcohol ? Or is it having enough gravity to allow post-secondary fermentation to continue slowly over time ? Or a combination of these ?

Thanks in advance,

Michael Vanderlaan

{end of email}

Cooper's advise me they have passed the email onto their production team for comment.


  1. Michael - they seem to be taking a while to reply - a sad state of affairs.

    Particularly with their Vintage Ale, I would be interested in an estimated peak, rather than a 'five-year' vague suggestion for cellaring.




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