Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Coopers, and time..... Response from the brewery

Some time ago I emailed some questions to Cooper's about the aging of their beers. The original blog post is here.

After a bit of back-and-forth, I have received an email from Nick Sterenberg, Cooper's Operations Manager.

AussieBeerBlog: 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 ?

Nick Sterenberg: Best After Dates :- This information is provided on the package to ensure the customer is aware that the product has completed the natural conditioning secondary fermentation process in package and the product is not released for sale from the warehouse before this date. The course of the secondary fermentation is assessed by quality control checks and flavour evaluation prior to being released for sale and hence there is no specific defined interval for this part of our process.

ABB: 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’ ?

NS: Sparkling Ale:- The change in flavour that occurs in all beers as they mature is less evident in strongly flavoured, naturally conditioned ales like Sparkling Ale due to the masking effects of the beer flavour and the low levels of oxygen in package as a result of the yeast fermentation. The changes in the beer flavour profile that you describe are typically what would be expected as beer matures but the actual rate that this occurs at depends on the transport, storage and dispense conditions the beer encounters once it leaves the brewery. Individual consumers vary in their appreciation of these flavour changes across a wide spectrum so it is not possible to give you a generalised answer as to when the beer might be “past it”; there is too much variability in the possible handling of the product and individual flavour preferences to be definitive.

ABB: 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 ?

NS: Vintage Ale & Stout:- The above comments relating to the development of aged character in Sparkling Ale apply even more so to Vintage Ale and Stout. We do not have flavour profiles available for these products at the ages you request but have evaluated them in an informal manner from time to time and have not found any instances where the packages have lost carbonation. There is variability in the development of the different Vintage Ales over time because each year they are brewed to a unique recipe and this is not repeated; it’s part of their unique character. The preference for aged Stout over fresh Stout is again a matter of individual preference.

ABB: 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 ?

NS: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery:- We also note that other brewers are following where we have led with varying amounts of success; as the pioneers in this area there is a common theme with all our Vintage Ales that you are obviously clearly aware off, they have a LOT of flavour! The development of this type of beer requires maintaining a careful balance between all of the contributors to final beer flavour; the selection of malt and hop types, brewing and fermentation temperature profiles (primary and secondary) and careful attention to best brewing practices throughout the extended production process. No individual characteristic should be predominant and the total intensity of flavour is much increased without the drinkability being impaired. We hope you enjoy the 2011 release which is imminent and we are already planning the 2012 edition which will be a celebration of Coopers 150th anniversary.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent information, thanks for posting this!

    Personally, the only beer from Cooper's that I would consider putting any age behind is their Vintage Ale. Pale, Sparking and Dark I seem to only enjoy if they are really fresh (with due consideration given to bottle conditioning). I am yet to try an aged Stout, but am always yet to hear anything good about experiences with the aged stout.

    A couple of bars in Melbourne, such as the Great Northern Hotel, have several kegs of Coopers Vintage Ale that they are "aging". A few months back I had the 2009 Vintage Ale on tap at Great Northern and it was very mellow and soft but wonderfully drinkable and still quite flavourful.

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