Rob (via blog comment): How long can I age the annual Christmas Ale and still have it taste the way you would want it to taste? I have a few small 2013 bottles left from last year, and my local beer/ wine store still has some large 2013 bottles for sale? Still good?
Bob: Around this time of year I often get asked about how well our Christmas Ale ages. I’ve addressed this topic before in a general sense but this is a good opportunity to re-visit the subject.
As a rule, well-packaged stronger and more full-bodied beers will age well if properly handled. They are, however, not eternal and there are some things to consider. We have encountered barley wines and strong ales that have held up for ten or more years when stored in a cool cellar environment. We have also encountered the same beers that have been subjected to temperature fluctuations and rough handling that have not done as well.
Anchor Christmas Ale does very well if stored properly. It will change though, as all aged beers do. The first and second year changes will be the most noticeable as the sharper hop and spice notes become more subtle and muted. The overall impression is of a softer and more rounded palate. Year three continues this profile but with less pronounced change. By year four there will be almost no standout hop or spice flavors, and by year five the subtleties of each vintage will be harder to distinguish.
I prefer years one through three myself, depending on the hop and spice profile of the original vintage. Obviously, if there is more hop and spice to begin with, there will be more carryover from year-to-year as the product ages, but by year five they all pretty much taste the same. Not necessarily bad, but not very interesting either.
I did a ten-year vertical tasting of our Christmas Ales once and found that by year seven, they really all did taste the same – and frankly, not very good.
So, what to take away from this? Anchor Christmas Ale ages very well for the first three years if kept cool and undisturbed. For the next two years it will be drinkable but not remarkable. After that, I would suggest simply adding the bottle to your collection rather than drinking it. With that said, we have people each holiday season who participate in multi-year verticals and tell us they enjoyed Anchor Christmas Ales brewed eight or ten years ago (sometimes longer). That may be nostalgia talking, but I’ll leave that up to the tastes of the individual.
There is an exception to this in that the larger magnum bottles seem to do better. Probably because they are a bit more insulated from temperature changes. I have also had retail customers who have saved kegs from year-to-year in their refrigerators which have held up remarkably well. In one case for five or six years, but this is not necessarily recommended.
Ask Bob A Question
Do you have a question you’d like to see answered in “Ask Bob Brewer?” Submit your question in the comments below or post it on our Facebook page.