I’ve been building up a backlog of beer for long enough now that I can compare the same beer (by name) brewed a year or two apart. I get an odd sort of geeky pleasure out of doing this, especially when there is an appreciable difference between the beers.
This evening I cracked open two bottles of HardKnott Granite, the 2009 (bottle 196 of 504) and the 2010 (bottle 332 of 804). The bottle describes this beer as a “barley wine style beer for geological time scale aging” with an added blurb “Hide it away in your deepest darkets cellar to avoid temptation to consume before its best. Enjoy with warm enligntened company, in a temperate climate sometime before the next ice age. Savour with cheese and dark chocolate.” OK, so perhaps I’ve given in to temptation early, but unfortunately I don’t have a cellar – let alone a deepest darkest cellar (I so wish I did!)
When I first tried the 2009 a year or so ago I described it as smoky, I recall using one of my favourite phrases: “sausage beer”. A lot has happened since then. I’ve met Dave Bailey, the brewer behind HardKnot, a couple of times (or so) and even bought firkins of his more tame (but very good) beers for our local Hitchin beer festival. When I went to return the empties back in April my timing was rather good… just in time to buy a mixed box of Granite and Aether Blaec 2010! I’ve had one or two bottles of all of these but this is the first pair I’ve put head-to-head. So, transcribing straight from my notes here’s how they compared:
|Granite 2009||Granite 2010|
|“Best Before” (or after?;)||10/02/15||14/02/16|
|Description on bottle||This beer was created using Natural Lake District water extracted from volcanic rock. The heat of our copper drove the malt sugars to twice the concentration producing a burnt toffee flavour.||This beer was created using water extracted from the ancient geology of Cumbria. The head of our copper drove the malt sugars to high concentration producing rich toffee flavours.|
|Opening||Sharp, strong “psst”. Slow gathering of bubbles around edge of neck.||Light “psst”. No visible bubbling.|
|Pour||Tight cream head builds quickly. Foam holds, takes 2+ minutes to dissipate.||Loose cream head. Dissipates rapidly.|
|Aroma||Hint of summer bushfire after rain, with a burnt car tyre or two. Medicinal disinfectant note as of hospital ward.||Fruity, boozy nose. Smells sweet. Hint of coffee.|
|Swirl||Head re-builds easily, retention as before.||Amost no head re-forms.|
||Verdict||This 2009 was not as good as I recall. I’m certain the beer has changed with age, though not for better or worse. I know I thought of it as a “sausage beer” (smoky) but this is certainly not how I’d describe it now. The actual smoky notes have gone to be replaced by burnt (post-smoke) flavours. The piney disinfectant flavour is a new one I think, or is given more prominence perhaps. I like piney flavours though so this doesn’t matter much. The sour note really is new I think, and I guess it comes with age – I wasn’t too keen on it.||The 2010 was a surprise. I have pre-conceived ideas based on the 2009, and while I’d tried the 2010 on its own already I didn’t realise it was so different compared to the 2009 (as drunk a year ago.) The only thing lacking was a bit of extra mouthfeel that would come from extra condition. Possibly the 2009 is over-conditioned (Dave himself said he thinks as much) but I’d personally prefer to see the over-condition of the 2009 in the 2010 than the near-flat beer I drank tonight. Then again, this is described as a barley-wine and I’ve never had a fizzy barleywine! It’s also over 10% ABV and could very easily replace the entirely un-fizzy dessert wine you might normally find accompanying a cheese platter. I’d say the blurb on the bottle is quite on-target when it suggest savouring the beer within with cheese.|
I guess I have to come to some sort of conclusion now. The 2010 is the better of the two, and while I’d like a little extra fizz in it I think that the massive flavour in the beer moves it into a territory where lighter texture isn’t too important. (I do believe I actually told Dave that I preferred the 2009 at some point, I stand self-corrected!) Keep in mind that these beers are 10% ABV, you want to sip them like a cognac or fine dessert wine. The 2009 is still a great bottle of beer, despite loosing out to its younger sibling. However I’m not certain age as treated it well, thus far, I remember more smoke and more malty toffee notes (but perhaps age is not treating my memory so well?) I have another bottle, or maybe two, so perhaps I’ll see what it’s like in a year… or five!
I do recommend getting hold of some HardKnott beers. I think they’re amongst the best examples of bottle-conditioned “real ales” you can come across. Secondary fermentation is what gives all Dave’s beers their essential fizz yet you won’t find a huge puck of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Too many micros in the UK either don’t bother with bottle conditioning or they whack a huge load of yeast into the bottle and make it very difficult to pour clear. I find, in my circles, that “real ale in a bottle” has a bit of a bad reputation as a result (it’s either not real and too fizzy, or is is real and you end up with mud in your glass.)
I also have two different HardKnott Queboids, and three different HardKnott Aether Blaecs. I do look forward to putting them head-to-head as well sometime!