Aging Beers: Ballentine (@ Cold Spring) Special Brew 2015 Season’s Greetings Burton Ale At 4 Years From our “Vault” from Cold Spring, Minnesota.
Date: February 07, 2018
The Story— Hats off to the entrepreneurs who figured out how to get the rights to brew this iconic American classic, then found a brewery that could more of less do it. (We know that’s not easy.)
Ballentine from Newark was one of the few breweries in America that brewed a beer with some flavor in the flavorless 50s and 60s. We loved to travel on the train from Washington to New York because the club car featured Ballentine and it was hard to find in bars. In earlier days Ballentine was even more special. In the 1940s Ballentine brewed a “Burton” beer mostly for employees and VIPs that they aged in oak for nearly two decades before bottling. It’s held up so well in the bottle we have never heard anyone fortunate to find one of the extant bottles from the 1960s complain about its condition. We were lucky enough to make friends with someone who shared a bottle after a tasting at RFD in Washington not all that long ago. It was magnificent.
Economics being as they are, and multi-millionaires being pretty much confined to purveyors of pale paltry pilsners, we’re not going to see a truly authentic revival of this classic, but this effort –contracted at Cold Spring– is laudable. It wasn’t aged for two decades in oak, but they did add oak chips, and it won’t hold up for an additional 40 years, but it’s done well enough at four years that we’re hanging on to the couple of bottles we have left to see how it is at five.
Tasted more or less fresh, we found it s big hammer beer with big rich caramel malt. Some wood and vanilla essence replicates the original rather than recreates it. Plenty of spicy hops try to avoid a 21st century anachronism and seem plausibly authentic. It’s something of a museum diorama– but how often can you drink one?
The Beer— After four years, it’s rich, sweet, chewy and boozy; there is a deep pineapple and it’s thick and rich with some age. But it’s pretty good age — enveloping the vanilla and rich caramel. Very warming. Ellie found it whiskey ish with some old hops. We wind up pouring a number of beers in the vault down the drain when they get to four years, but this one is moving to the cool cellar.
Value — Very Good. Well, considering the alternative is to pay $150 or more on the internet for a bottle of the real thing and then hope you haven’t just bought some interesting vinegar, the somewhat more than ten bucks for a big (75 cl.) bottle seems to us a bargain.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.
In February, we’re digging into our legendary “vault” where we’ve been storing hundreds of bottles of beer waiting for the right time to taste them (or sell them for charity). The charity market has slowed, so we’re working through them in front of a fire and finding some disappointments, but more very surprising delights. You can find links here.
We’re often asked to share our tasting notes on over 33,000 beers; this blog is in answer to those requests. Not all our notes, though. The great beer writer Michael Jackson admirably followed the Thumper Rule, and we’ll try to do the same. (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”) All the beers we post are from the top half of our ratings and most are from the top quarter. Of greater value, we think, are the stories behind the beers, and we try to give you enough about the brewery, the style and the places to find great beer to help you on your own beer journeys. At CulturAle Press we try to write books and publish posts that will help you “Drink Well and Travel Safely.”