February 19 was the annual “drink it now” event, a movement started by Allagash Brewing that encourages craft beer enthusiasts to crack that one bottle of beer that we’ve all been saving for… well, a special moment.
As someone who cellars beers, I am fully aware that I’ve become a bit of a beer hoarder. Beers go into the cellar, but they rarely come back out. I just keep waiting for that special moment, which sadly never comes. So this event is a great excuse to crack one of those beers open.
This year I decided to pop the cork on a bottle of Grand Cru from North Coast Brewing that I’ve had been aging since about 2012 or 2013—this being an estimate, because they don’t date their bottles.
Reminiscent of North Coast Brewing’s Gold Medal-winning Twentieth Anniversary Ale, North Coast Grand Cru is brewed with pilsner malt and agave nectar, then aged in oak bourbon barrels.
We’ve had a good time exploring the brewing possibilities outside of the standard beer styles. North Coast Grand Cru doesn’t fit neatly into any established category. We brew it exclusively with Pils malt with an addition of agave nectar in the kettle. The beer is then fermented with the same Belgian yeast that we use to ferment our North Coast Brewing Le Merle. It’s subtle, complex and lightly hopped with a deceptive 12.9% ABV, and aging it in oak gives this unique beer an extra dimension. The result is really “champagne-like.”
- 500 ml champagne bottle
- 12.9% ABV
This beer opened in spectacular fashion. When I popped the cork, it was fine for half a second, then air rushed into the bottle and it started gushing out like champagne on a winner’s podium. Luckily, I had a glass on hand an caught most of it.
This beer poured out a slightly cloudy honey-amber hue with lots of effervescent bubbles, but no head at all. Apart from the colour, it looked a lot like champagne.
The nose was a complex mixture of a sweetness from the agave nectar, fruity esters from the Belgian yeast (mostly banana, orange, lemon), bourbon that has mellowed with age, vanilla, oak, spicy clove and pepper from the yeast phenols, and light pale malt. I was expecting the nose to be really hot from the 12.9% ABV, but while there was a little heat, it seems the aging has mellowed it out quite a bit.
The palate was a similarly complex affair with notes of bourbon, sweet agave nectar and candi sugar, banana, pear, orange, cherries, raisins, dates, clove, pepper, vanilla, oak, toffee and caramel from the pale malts, and a touch of funk.
The mouthfeel was medium-bodied and syrupy with effervescent champagne-like carbonation that comes out of solution very quickly. The finish is rather sweet, but not sickly.
Apart from the bottle drenching my counter top, this was an outstanding experience. The years have been very kind to this bottle and seemed to have transformed it into something beyond beer. The alcohol heat has mellowed and at some point it developed a slight funkiness. It had aspects that reminded me of an old fashioned cocktail made with bourbon or brandy, along with some champagne qualities, as well as lots of Belgian yeast character.
Needless to say this was a very unique beer that is not for everyone, but for those who crave something a little different, this will be a incredibly rewarding. Of course, to age it this long, they would also require remarkable patience or a poor memory for what beers they have stored.
Afternote: I think I may have caught this bottle just in time. The bottom of the cork had become really soft and I think if it had been left any longer, the beer would have been corked.
Overall Rating: 4.75/5
Serving temp: 8-12C/45-54F
Food pairing: Stilton cheese; creme brulee