When I pull stuff from storage for the From the Cellar series, I don't necessarily expect much. For personal reasons I'm pulling some of this stuff sooner than I normally would, so a few of these aging experiments are not showcasing the vintages I had hoped to showcase when I first stored them away.
So when I get a pleasant surprise like this one, I'm pretty damn thrilled!
Dogfish Head's Burton Baton is an imperial IPA blend made up of a fresh double IPA and an English-style old ale, both aged in oak barrels for about a month. Though old ales age wonderfully, IPAs are generally not good candidates for aging. Hops and bitterness tend to be among the first things to fade from a beer. In most modern IPAs, being as little as six months out of date can leave you with a beer that tastes like sweet cardboard left in a basement.
With that in mind, on the surface Dogfish Head's Burton Baton, made up largely of a double IPA, doesn't seem like the ideal choice for a beer to be set down for over 12 months.
Still, it's loosely modeled after -- actually, "inspired by" is the more accurate descriptor -- Ballantine Burton Ale, an ultra rare beer that had been aged for decades in oak. This beer may well have what it takes to age well.
And it does. Fourteen months into the aging experiment, pressed for something to drink, I decided to crack one open. The beer did NOT pour as expected. First of all, it poured with a HUGE, thick, creamy tan head that lingered for the entire life of the beer. Completely unexpected for an imperial IPA that was over a year old. The head did not at all dissipate over the course of 45 minutes to an hour of drinking, remaining thick as a light cream throughout that time. Wow!
The aroma, unfortunately, left me worried about how this beer would taste. It was dominated with the musty, faded out hops common to IPAs that are out of date, in this case touched by notes of alcohol and wood.
Based on the aroma, this wasn't going to be good.
I was wrong.
In that first sip you get a mouthful of woody, creamy malt; it's thick and tasting of oak. You then get hit with subdued hops that are nonetheless nicely bitter, at this point perfectly in balance with the sweetness of the malt. I mean, perfectly. It's as if a year turned this into the beer it wants to be. Fresh Burton is a blast of pine hops, quite tasty indeed, but this ... this is just a damn good, utterly balanced beer with a lot going on in every sip. It's delicious. There are hints of oak in the finish, adding a pleasantly astringent edge, and, despite the big 10% ABV, nary a hint of alcohol.
I am impressed. After a little over a year, this. Beer. Drinks. GREAT. In many ways even better than it does when it is fresh. There is another bottle in my cellar, as well as a bottle of a much older vintage. I can't wait to see how they taste with a few more years on them.
Cellar this one? Absolutely!
BEER: Dogfish Head Burton Baton
VINTAGE: April 201l
TIME AGED: 1 year, 2 months (14 months)
NOTES: This aged brew would pair GREAT with a hearty seasoned fish
VERDICT: This aged FAR better than I expected given its origins. Grab a four-pack and put two away for at least a year!