There is a sweet spot with every well brewed beer where the flavors meld together and harmony is reached. The beer “peaks” and it won’t taste any better than at that moment. Only through repetition and rigorous controls can you establish the peak period of a certain beer. Commercial breweries have to know this in order to put out their product and have it peak when the consumer has it in his or her hands. Of course, this is all subjective, much like everything in the beer tasting world, but knowing when a beer will be at its best affects the homebrewer for a couple reasons. If you’re brewing a beer for a party, you want your beer to be tasting the freshest and most awesome it can be on the date of the event. If you send in a beer to a homebrew competition you want the same scenario when it hits the judges’ palates.
I staged a small experiment where I brewed a beer and split up the bottles to condition at two separate temperatures. One batch was stored near freezing 32F and the other slightly higher than cellar temps ~60F. I am most concerned with high alcohol beers and how conditioning affects them. These beers require additional conditioning time to allow the alcohol to mellow so it doesn’t “burn” when you drink it. Most big Belgian beers are bottle conditioned and age well because of the unfiltered yeast that act as a preservative . The experiment beer was first kegged, force carbonated, and then bottle filled with a Blichmann beer gun, so it differs a little from most bottle conditioned Belgians that are refermented in the bottle. With no yeast to act as a preservative agent, how long will this beer survive at different temperatures? It’s well known in the beer world that warmer temperatures accelerate the maturation process where alcohol oxidizes and breaks down.
BDSA was brewed on 5/3/2011 making it almost 8 months old. Both beers were tasted at 50F.
My results confirmed this with the warm cellared beer displaying much more character and complexity and generally being more enjoyable to drink. The aroma was floral and rose-like (from the oxidation of alcohol), malty, sweet, licorice, and generally more fruity than than cold cellared beer. The cold beer also had a noticeable alcohol aroma that followed into the taste along with sweet and malty notes. Both beers exhibited notes of raisons, prunes, vanilla, and black peppercorns but the warm beer seemed much more balanced and less spicy than the cold beer. The warm beer also had a much more pronounced vanilla presence that made it much more enjoyable to drink for me. Both were medium bodied with a dry finish and The head on both beers was tan and hazy, with the warm having a slightly better retention and lacing. I think this may have been due to the cleanliness of the glasses more so than any component of the beer.
The warm cellared beer is peaking right now and I don’t think it will get any better. All the complexity and nuance you expect in a Belgian dark strong ale is there. The cold beer still has a ways to go and I’ll revisit both of them and update in a few months. It makes sense that both of these beers will not last as long as if they were refermented in the bottle rather than forced carbed and bottled, but right now it’s a damn tasty beer.