adventures in craft beer and real food

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Second and Third Tastes: Capital Vintage Ale

I've got too much on my mind
I think of everything to be discovered
I hope there's something to find
Searching for the time that has gone so fast
The time that I thought would last
-Paul McCartney from "Ever Present Past"

It's hard to believe how the time has flown! On December 28, 2006, I cracked open the first bottle in a four pack of Capital's Vintage Ale. The verdict: harsh and tastes like booze. But it showed potential.

At the time, I suggested that I would open the next bottle on the first day of spring in 2007. Only five days late (can't be drinking a strong ale when you have to work the next day), and three months after my first taste, I opened my second bottle on March 26, 2007. A couple of things changed. For one thing, the first bottle I had was crystal clear; the second bottle I had showed significant turbidity. While the first bottle showed little carbonation, the second bottle raised a more robust head. This could be caused by glassware cleanliness, but I keep my beer glasses very clean so I have to discount that as unlikely. The first bottle was bursting with Kent goldings and cascade hop aroma, the second had a much more muted -- but more complex -- aroma. Instead of discrete hop aromas, the aroma was slightly floral behind a dominant maltiness. The second bottle was very smooth, and didn't have the harsh ethanol flavor of the first bottle. At the time, I also thought it was sweeter and more viscous than the first bottle.

Tonight, ten months after my last taste, I cracked open the third bottle. When I opened the bottle, the aroma has definitely developed since the second tasting. It smells fruity, like grape fruit, and like the inside of a flower shop. The taste is still smooth with little ethanol flavor. There is a strong maltiness to the flavor like sourdough bread, only much stronger. As a result, the flavor is very sweet and seems out of balance until the bittering hops hit relatively late in the progression of flavors. As it warms, the grapefruit flavors become more pronounced. It definitely takes on some complexity like port or sherry. The beer is even more turbid than it was in the second tasting.

As a side note, reading reviews of this beer on Beer Advocate has been an interesting experience. One reviewer gave it a D+, another described it as a "trainwreck." As one reads reviews that become increasingly current, the grades improve. Maybe this is because of sampling bias, that people who took the effort to find bottles of it are more likely the kind who would give Vintage Ale the attention it deserves. I prefer to think it reflects well on its potential to get better over time.

I'm not sure when I'll get around to cracking my final bottle of the 2006 Vintage Ale. It has proven itself as a great beer for aging. If I was worried that there was nothing else to find in this aging experiment, I shouldn't have been; I've had three distinct beers so far, two of them sublime. I do find myself searching for time, wishing it would last like this fine contribution from the Capital Brewery.