Over at Chicago Foodies, I wrote up my recent experience drinking a 2008 Founders Breakfast Stout that had been aging for 3 years in the merchant's basement. Lush Wine & Spirits here in Chicago bought a case, apparently three years ago, and let it sit for 36 months before recently selling it for $6 a bottle.
As I referenced in the post, I was mesmerized by how much better the Breakfast Stout is after living sedintarily for 3 years. The harsher elements of the beer, namely the strong coffee and hops flavors, melt away after that much aging, leaving only hints of their existence, while the main ingredient, a heap of chocolate, oozes forth. It's bitter chocolate that dominates this brew, like a 75% cacao bar. Sensational.
I alluded to the fact that it made me rethink beer evaluation. Now that the craft beer revolution is in full swing, high gravity, high alcohol, and barrel aged beers are very common, presenting many more opportunities for long-term aging. Should a beer such as Breakfast Stout be considered at the time of its initial release or how it tastes 1-2 years out? If you bought certain Burgundies or Bordeaux wines, drinking them too early would mean they would be too "tight" and unenjoyable. These wines often hit their sweet spot 5-10 years out from their vintage year. Aging worthy beers are really no different.
My Breakfast Stout experience opened my eyes to the fact that it may be unfair to rate this beer based upon it's profile at the time of its initial release. I've always liked it, but generally find it a bit too harsh when drunk in its release year. In fact, I'm drinking a 2011 right now which is a great beer, but top heavy with chocolate and hops. I now realize the potential for achieving a whole different drinking experience by letting it age a while. This concept is revolutionizing beer ratings: a beer of this type - high alcohol with aging potential - carries a package of reviews corresponding to different points in its lifespan. Perhaps no one point defines the beer but they all operate in concert. The optimal drinking point is based upon your individual preferences.
Anyway, just some increasingly meandering thoughts. Back to my Breakfast Stout. Enjoy your evening.