Are You Tasting the Pith? - 6th June 04
"In 'The Trumpet Major' Hardy wrote of Dorchester's strong beer: 'It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset". It's no often that beer inspires such prose, but I'm lucky enough to have a bottle of this beer in front of me as I write. In fact, I'm doubly lucky, because I have two bottles, from two different vintages (1999 and 2003). And they're both open.
Prying the caps off (with, of course, a trembling hand) brings a waft of dried-fruity, rummy flavours bursting into the room, and these gradually exhale as the beers are decanted. On pouring, the immediate difference is in the colour and texture of the head. The 04 has a tight head, with a pale butterscotch colour, and hangs around for a while longer than its older, looser, paler counterpart's. The colour is pretty similar in both glasses, although the older vintage has begun to acquire some tawny colour at the edge.
The smells from the two beers are astonishing, and quite different. The more aged beer has started to develop a nutty, marzipan-like aroma, slightly woody perhaps, and much better integrated. The younger bottle is a little brasher, with a big burst of floral orange perfume. It seems more heady and volatile, with a slightly rough 'green' edge to it. It has a distinct waft of tickly alcohol to it, whereas the older bottle has mellowed and gained the smoothness of age.
On the palate, the differences are even more pronounced. The 99 has acquired a gentle smoothness and depth, and a very long, rich finish, with a real stewed fruit flavour and a smooth nutty, chocolatey flavour. The 04, by contrast, is still a little too sharp, with the caramel notes having a slightly bitter, burnt, bonfire-toffee edge to them. These should mellow with age - I hope so, as I've already laid a case down for future enjoyment.
These beers aren't for everyone - they are genuinely for connoisseurs only, and there's nothing wrong with that. So as my beard grows ever longer, and my trousers become ever more unfashionable, I think that this is an indulgence that I may be able to grow into.
There's also a nice article about a tasting of more vintages here
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