Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From the Cellar: Samuel Adams Imperial White

From The Cellar posts are about aging beer just like you would wine, and this time around we've got a pretty interesting one: Samuel Adams Imperial White.

This is an odd one to cellar. Traditionally, witbiers are not good candidates for aging. You want to drink them cold and fresh in order to get the nice notes of orange peel and coriander. This Imperial White, however, is a high alcohol monster that Sam Adams allegedly brewed with aging in mind.

I should hope they had aging in mind with this one, because frankly, when fresh this beer is a mess. It's big, hot, malty yet spiced up, and trying to do too many things at once. It doesn't know what it wants to be -- it's neither refreshing like a great witbier nor hearty and satisfying like a big alcohol brew -- and it's not something I'd recommend.

But what does some time do to it?

The bottle I opened was about two years old, stored in a covered mile crate in the corner of a bedroom. It remained at about 65 - 70 degrees the whole time and saw no light.

The beer pours a deeply hazy orange, with a light, fizzy head that dissipates pretty quickly. There is a surprising amount of orange in the aroma, shockingly up front despite the beer's age and having come directly from the fridge. (Lower temperatures inhibit aroma, which is why the "cold, cold, cold!" push of Bud, Miller and Coors is so idiotic; most of what we perceive as taste, after all, is actually what we're smelling.) As Imperial White warms to room temperature, however, it begins to develop an aroma note that is almost akin to window cleaner. Oof. This beer wants to consumed slightly on the cooler side -- which makes sense, since wheats tend to be preferred at lower temperatures.

Thankfully, it tastes pretty damn good. After two years, plenty of orange and some coriander remain in this uber-powered witbier. The malts have developed into a more complicated mix of crisp wheat and heady sweetness. Whereas fresh this beer was a mess that didn't quite know what it wants to be, with some time under its belt this is a surprisingly interesting beer. There is a note on the back end that is just this far into "funny," but for the most part the wheat and spice have evolved into a more complex brew than when first purchased.

The alcohol has really mellowed after all this time, too. This beer comes in at 10.3% ABV, which is HUGE for a wheat beer/witbier, yet after two years you'd never know it was as potent as it is. The beer drinks smooth. Not quite refreshingly smooth, but smooth. Which isn't to say this beer drinks easy. It doesn't. There is a lot going on here, and halfway through the glass you begin to get some fatigue. But overall, this beer is FAR better after being laid down for two years than it was fresh. And just to back that up, I had quite a few bottles on hand and tried them at roughly six-month intervals. I can say unequivocally that this beer gets better over time.

If I have another bottle on hand -- I don't recall offhand if I do -- I'll be trying it at three years to see how it is.

BEER: Samuel Adams Imperial White
VINTAGE: 2010 (estimated; Boston Beer Co., please date your Imperial series)
TIME AGED: About 2 years
NOTES: Would probably pair very well with a meal

VERDICT: Put this beer away for a while and enjoy, this one gets better with age!

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