I’ve been reading up on a great thread on homebrewtalk about aging beer. It’s mainly been reaffirming my new found knowledge that properly adjusted water pH can help speed the process along…..but that’s not what this is about. I mainly keg, and I’m still learning with every batch that some beers are ready earlier than others, and while some are ready, they’re delicious after an extra month or two tucked away in a corner. These are usually hop monsters, higher gravity beers, or stuff I’ve never really delved into before, like the rye IPA. An adequate knowledge of basic brewing procedures (as well as beer in general) would show that these beers just need a little extra time to find their optimum flavor and balance. It’s a tricky slope, since hop aroma and flavor can quickly fade.

Bottling is a different animal altogether. When you bottle, it’s generally at least two weeks before the beer is carbonated, then usually a couple more before it’s right where you want it. Sometimes (as in the case of my stout), a few months really brings out some subtleties. In the case of imperial IPA’s however, you’re not going to want to wait around too long. Even commercial IIPA’s are made to be consumed fresh.

I recently found a small stash of last summer’s Dawn Spawn Double IPA (my first big beer!), which I brewed in April to bring to New Jersey in June (My sister Dawn’s adorable redheaded boys inspired the name and color). I was proud of it, but I knew right away when I popped that first bottle in NJ that it was past its prime already. Of course I didn’t let on my thoughts, since it was still a tasty beer. I also had a few Hop Zombie IPA’s from back in September (brewed in the backyard of Ed’s (No Name) Bar, during our second homebrew get together). We bottled the Hop Zombie at the next month’s meeting (I racked it into a keg and used a picnic tap and homemade bottling wand with carbonation tablets…worked really nice), and we were all really psyched about the massive hop flavor and aroma of the samples we tried. I took a bottle of each and poured them into a glass. Before tasting, I took a picture:

On the left is the Dawn Spawn, the Hop Zombie on the right. Right away, the Dawn Spawn nearly overflowed the glass, while the Hop Zombie had a nice mellow carbonation. The HZ had a significant amount of sludge on the bottom, but it wasn’t caked to the bottom of the bottle like the Dawn Spawn was. I actually had to OxyClean a few of the DS bottles to get the crud out so I could re-use them. Neither beer smelled like anything I remembered, it was mostly booze. The HZ tasted stale, malty with a faint hop bite rolling off of your tongue at the end. It almost tasted like a barleywine (though not a very good one!). The Dawn Spawn tasted like what I’d imagine rocket fuel would taste like. All hop and malt flavor and aroma were masked by a sharp alcoholic heat. It was pretty bad. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. There was no need to keep them around, so I dumped them out, cleaned and reclaimed the bottles. A neat experiment, though.

Bottling kind of gives me that ‘hoarding’ mindset, especially near the end of a batch. “I can’t drink the last Hop Zombie!”, like I’d be consuming some historic document. If you bottle a good batch, it’s no fun to see that last bottle go, but it has to! Kegging is so much easier in this regard, since the end of a kegged batch announces itself with one last glorious pint, followed by some shooting foam and a hiss of c02 coming out of the tap. That’s it. If you’re lucky, you have another full keg to take its place. If not, you surely have something in the pipeline.

Some beers just go TOO fast. My hop-bursted IPA seemed to pretty much drain itself from the keg. From the first 2-liter bottle I force carbed in order to bring to homebrew night, to that last muddy pint (weird, since usually the last pint for me is clear and wonderful), this was a beer that was kegged quickly, and drank quicker. A look at the recipe on the right shows that the amount of hops used provided an incredible aroma and flavor, even without dry or keg hopping. Even still, with a little over a month in the keg, the initial punch that people were able to smell from across the room was starting to fade. All the more reason to enjoy it while it was at its best!

An interesting sidenote about the Hop Zombie. We bottled two cases, using the same kind of bottles, the same amount of carb tabs, and the same equipment. One case was kept in my basement, the other in Ed’s back room. A couple months in, we did a side by side, and the beers tasted completely different. The only difference was probably a few degrees of storage temperature. Surprising!

Finally, I racked the stout into secondary today. It’ll sit in there for a week with a hop bag containing an ounce and a half of Sumatra and cocoa nibs. Then I’ll bottle it and wait for a month or so. It tastes very smooth so far, and I can’t wait for the finished product!