Last summer I had a unique opportunity to get my hands on old craft beer. A restaurant close to a factory I frequent on business trips to mainland China not only stored their beers at room temperature, they also had very old beer that was likley ordered when they have opened up couple of years ago and they haven’t replenished their supply since. This sort of thing isn’t uncommon in China. Presented with this opportunity, I couldn’t resist the urge to bring a few old beers to Japan and do a side by side tasting with a fresh beer of the same kind. Ballast Point and Sierra Nevada are easy to find in Japan, so getting relatively fresh beers in a good condition wasn’t a problem. Finally, my father-in-law kept a case of Sapporo Ebisu cans in a room temperature for nearly a year. So, I have added the Sapporo beer to the comparison tasting. Here are my tasting notes and thoughts.
1. Sierra Nevada – Nooner Pilsner
Tasting date: April 8th, 2018
Newer beer packaged date: February 1st, 2018
Older beer packaged date: October 27th, 2015
3 month old vs. 2 year 5 month old beer
The newer beer pours a very light gold and is slightly lighter than the 2015 “vintage”. Lemony, grassy damp and fresh aroma is present. The body is light to medium. Lemony and grassy hop flavor is highlighted by carbonated zing with a pilsner malt beady and cracker-like background. Slightly above average attenuation gets a nice and dry lingering lemony orange-like bitter finish. The older beer pours a copper gold with light cloudiness. Sweet malty cookie-like aroma, initial lightly sour volatile compounds and some Saazer hops on the nose. The sweetness in the flavor is similar to limoncello liqueur. There is big a presence of a Trans-2-Nonenal chemical compound which results in a cardboard-like flavor. Body is medium and lightly warming. Carbonation is lower than normal. Bitterness is low. A grassy, heavy with T2N cardboard astringency that reminds of you a bitter grapefruit rind is lingering in the finish. There is a hint of cherry and warming in the finish that isn’t present in the newer beer.
3 months old beer
Lighter by at least 1 SRM
2 years 5 months old beer
Lightly hazy appearance
Packaged on February 1st, 2018
Packaged on October 27th, 2015
2. Ballast Point – Sculpin IPA
Tasting date: May 8th, 2018
Newer beer packaged date: November 6th, 2017
Older beer packaged date: November 23rd, 2015
6 month old vs. 2 year 5 month old beer
The newer beer is clear and slightly darker in appearance when compared to the old beer which is hazy. The newer beer had a nice head retention while the older beer’s head dissipated right away. Aromas of the old beer are of a sweet cookie and toasted bread. There is a Sherry-like oxidation note and a very big amount of a dry cardboard (T2N) off-flavor. There’s also a soapy note. The new beer has a big aroma of citrus, tropical fruit and pine needles. It has a bold citrus flavor, a moderate to high bitterness and a medium body with a typical 2.5 volumes of carbonation. The finish is long and citrus-like. The two and a half year old beer’s hop flavors have significantly degraded. With no citrus like flavor, the cloying sweetness without much flavor character is dominating. The astringent bitterness lingers with high alcohol warming aftertaste and a little sherry-like oxidation note.
6 months old beer
Clear color with nice head retention. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Moderate to high bitterness. Carbonation is normal.
2 years 5 months old beer
Aroma and flavor of wet cardboard. Degradation of hop flavors, malt sweetness is more pronounced, a cherry note, no head retention, astringency and warming in the finish.
A light haziness in the older beer while the newer beer appears crystal clear. The haze makes the older beer appear paler.
The newer beer has good head retention while the older beer’s head instantly dissipates.
Until recently, Ballast Point had used the Julian day of the year as a part of their packaging day code.
Older beer code 15 327 means 327th day of 2015 which is November 23rd, 2015.
3. Sapporo – Premium Ebisu
Tasting date: May 5th, 2018
Newer beer packaged date: Early March, 2018
Older beer packaged date: Early May, 2017
2 month old vs. 1 year old beer
The older beer has no head and a light haze probably due to suspended proteins which came out of solution. There is less carbonation and the color is slightly darker than the fresh brew. The big Dortmunder Export style floral perfume-like Saazer hop aroma and white bread like malt background nose is greatly diminished and are mostly replaced by a sweet sherry and paper-like oxidation aromas. The fresh brew has a medium bitterness of around 30 IBUs and a clean and persisting finish with a lingering bready malt background. The older brew’s malt sweetness is prominent. The cardboard-like T2N flavor is quite apparent. There is some alcoholic warmth in the finish and a lightly puckering tannin astringency.
Older beer can on the left
Sapporo beer’s best by date is 8 months after the packaging date.
The older beer has an apparent haze which is possibly due to proteins coming out of solution.
Older Beer Can
All Sapporo beer undergoes a low temperature pasteurization to stop all yeast activity.
Newer Beer Can
According to a reliable source, pasteurization temperatures are + 50° to 60°C.
While the older beers weren’t completely unpalatable, the hop aroma and flavor degradation, hazy appearance, low head retention, malty sweetness and papery T2N oxidation off-flavor were quite apparent. This reminds me of the following rule: “In a study conducted by one of the large breweries on flavor loss in bottled and canned products resulted in the 3-30-300 Rule. The same flavor loss results from beer being stored in your car’s trunk for three days at 90°F (32°C) as beer being stored at room temp (72°F or 22°C) for 30 days and beer being stored at 38°F (3°C) for 300 days.”¹ Most beers are meant to be consumed as quickly as possible after packaging and stored at 3°C. Sadly, this doesn’t happen all if not most of the time. It was interesting to do these comparative tastings and confirm what’s written in beer textbooks about oxidation. If you stumble upon old beer you’re more than welcome to do the same.
www.craftbeer.com, “Craft Beer Retailer
Temperature Cheat Sheet”, presented by Brewers Association. Viewed on February 6th, 2019. https://www.craftbeer.com/attachments/0005/0196/beertemperature.pdf
For a long time, the breweries championed Reinheitsgebot as a way of keeping the quality standards high and in 20th century, they began to use it as a marketing point. Currently, the German consumer enforces it as a way to preserve tradition and authenticity¹. This Bavarian royal decree dating to 1516, focused mainly on taxes and beer selling price regulations². Quite possibly, the famous ingredient restriction to water, malted barley and hops had to do more with malted barley and hops being taxed ingredients than consumer health and beer quality³. Furthermore, Duke of Bavaria Wilhelm IV, who issued this edict, has intentionally omitted yeast. During that period, each brewery had a “heffner”, or, a yeast-guy, whose job was to re-use the yeast and it was a common understanding that the “Zeug”, or stuff in German, was “something that stayed in the beer”¹. The existence of yeast and its necessity to brewing was common knowledge. Amazingly, the law has survived the political turmoil of the last five centuries, including the world wars. The term Reinheitsgebot, translated as “purity law” from German, was coined only in 1918, during a heated Bavarian parliament discussion⁴. While the 1516 decree was limited only to Bavaria and its lagers, the modern version has separate categories for ales and lagers, which makes its possible to brew a wheat beer with coriander and salt. In other words, the list of allowed ingredients was expanded. German brewers that fail to adhere to it, may sell their beverages, but may not call them “beer”⁵. In case of non-compliance, the brewers are forced to dump entire batches by the state inspectors⁴.
Alworth, Jeff. “Attempting to understand the Reinheitsgebot,” All About Beer Magazine 37, Issue 1, March 17, 2016 http://allaboutbeer.com/article/happy-birthday-reinheitsgebot/
Alworth, Jeff. The Beer Bible: The Essential Beer Lover’s Guide (p. 31, 366). Workman Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
Mosher, Randy. Tasting Beer, 2nd Edition: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink (location 4664. Storey Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.
Klawitter, NIls. “The Twilight of Germany’s Reinheitsgebot”, Spiegel Online, April 21, 2016 http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-reinheitsgebot-beer-purity-law-turns-500-a-1086681-2.html
Horst Dornbusch and Karl-Ullrich Heyse. The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Gareth Oliver (p. 360). 1st edition 2011, Oxford University Press.
World’s largest brewing conglomerate¹ was formed in 2008 through a merger of Belgian Interbrew with US-based Anheuser-Busch. Interbrew itself was formed in 1999 by a merger of Brazilian based AmBev and Belgian based Interbrew. In 2016 AB-InBev acquired the competitor SABMiller and now owns over 500 beer brands in over 100 countries² with recorded revenue of 56.4 billion USD in 2017 fiscal year³. The global and international brands AB-InBev owns include Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Hoegaarden and Leffe.
Quite a few craft beer fans and industry people blindly despise AB-InBev. Opinions should be backed up by facts. If you want to dig deeper, please read Josh Noel’s fascinating interview with Cloudburst Brewing’s founder Steve Luke, about his t-shirt stunt at the Great American Beer Festival’s awards ceremony earlier this year.
This year’s summer, colorless beverages such as Coca-Cola Clear, Morning Premium Tea, Clear Latte and the Beer Taste All-Free All-Time alcohol-free beer have been trending in Japan. However, the limited run of Clear Craft, 5% ABV alcoholic beverage developed by Asahi Brewing Ltd, wasn’t a part of the trend. The limited batch of about 9000 pints of the Clear Craft was served on draft in four Asahi Brewing owned Asahi tap only establishments June 25th through the end of August. Luckily, one of the establishments is located in Osaka which is accessible to me.
In July, Yumi Sakai, the owner of Bîru Joshi (“Beer Girl”) blog, has interviewed Masako Nishiyama, the researcher directly responsible for the R&D behind Clear Craft at Asahi Brewing Ltd. Masako thought that beers are “a bit heavy”, “make you full quickly”, and its “difficult to drink many at a time”. She felt the desire to create the ultimately refreshingly delicious beer. According to the research team’s survey, words “colorless and clear” lead to associations of “sukkiri” to the Japanese consumer. “Sukkiri” translates as “refreshing” in the beverage context. That revelation marked the start of the project. It took Nishyama and the team more than 100 times to hammer down the recipe and it took eight long years for the idea to become a commercially sellable product if only for a limited testing run. Yumi describes the beverage as “lightly bitter, refreshing and (it) leaves an overall impression of sweetness which might confuse consumers who were prepared to drink a beer”. The consumers were asked to fill in a short questionnaire and had comments such as “quaffable because it’s clear”, “refreshing and good”, “too refreshing”, “I want it to taste more like a beer”. Masako heard their voices and is tweaking her recipe yet again to reduce the sweetness.¹
Here are my tasting notes: Pours a crystal clear slight tint of yellow with a quickly dissipating head leaving no lacing. Floral, Hallertau-like hop bouquet. Chemically induced clean bitterness comes in front, supported by carbonation and cold serving temperature. There is none to low malt flavor to follow or support the bitterness. Body is medium and carbonation is typical. In my opinion, there were no traditional ingredients used. If there is sweetness, it comes from Sweet’n Low sweetener-like flavor and its well hidden by the artificial bitterness which lingers with an unnecessarily warm finish. There’s much more tweaking for Masako to do to make this beverage palatable.
Yumi Sakai, “A developer explains the reasons behind the making of a transparent craft beer”. Last modified July 5th, 2018, https://beergirl.net/asahi-clearbeer_n/
Let there be a world of knowledgeable consumers and bar proprietors in which we understand beer in its splendid and almighty versatility. A place where the consumer will know how to pair beer with food similar to the general knowledge of red wine with beef and a white with a fish. Renown beer writer Michael Jackson in his essential Beer Companion points to discerning wine folk who underestimate beer: “No one goes into a restaurant and requests ‘a plate of food, please’. People do not ask simply for ‘a glass of wine’, without specifying, at the very least, whether they fancy a red or white, dry or sweet, perhaps sparking or still”¹. And then, the same wine geeks order ‘a beer’. Michael is trying to rectify this ignorance in his most known work – introducing and showing that beer can be as elegant as wine or spirits. It can be as complex or as simple simple as you want it to be: a cold and quaffable lager on a hot summer’s day; a table beer to go with your everyday dinner; a celebratory sparkling ale in a flute glass; a nutty brown ale to match your barbecued meat; or a nightcap of a thick imperial stout to warm you up on a cold winter’s night.
Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t reserved only for the consumer side – many bar owners should broaden their knowledge. In a perfect world, all establishments that serve beer would correctly maintain the draft systems; all bartenders would care for a proper pour to a beer clean glass and a whiff of an off-flavor either from a draft or packaged beer will raise bartender’s eyebrow. Faulty equipment or simple draft system troubleshooting could be done without calling for help and restaurant menus will include many beer and food pairings which will make the customers return. Finally, for the consumer, a myriad of hop, malt, and other ingredient aromas and flavors would become more than just “hoppy” or “malty” and the terminology reserved for tasters and brewers would become common language. A regular customer would walk in and say without looking at the menu that he or she wants a chicken salad and a witbier, a cheeseburger with a pale ale or a chocolate mousse with that imperial stout. We at Beerjuku.com are adamant that this perfect word is not too far-fetched and we are here to educate – one little sip at a time.
Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion – Stouts, Lagers, Wheat Beers, Fruit Beers, Ales, Porters – Second Revised (Elan Press, 1997), 6-7
Hops (Humulus Lupulus) and Marijuana (Cannabis) plants are taxonomically related and come from Cannabinaceae family. Both share similar aroma compounds (brewing term: hop essential oils) myrcene, beta-pinene, and alpha-humulene. Those are the same aroma compounds that produce Marijuana’s typical smell. Additionally, TCH – Marijuana’s active component, and humulone – a component that makes beer bitter (brewing term: hop alpha acids) are made from the same organic building block compound – terpenoid.
Martha Harbinson, “BeerSci: What’s The Connection Between Hops And Marijuana?”, last modified November 16, 2012, https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-11/beersci-marijuana-related-hops
Graham Eyres, Jean-Pierre Dufour “Beer in Health and Disease Prevention” 2009, 29 January 2010, Abstract, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-373891-2.00022-5