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Every Beer has it’s Summer, Autumn & Winter

Beer is an agricultural product and we probably lost sight of that as large beer producers in the late Twentieth Century convinced us this crisp amber liquid simply appeared on shelves and poured out of hotel taps without variance. The beer industry mastered production, distribution and branding. However, things changed a bit as we moved into the world of microbreweries and small scale home brewed beer.

The difference, of course, is we don’t have a nationally accredited cold chain process in a distribution channel that an industrial scale brewery might entertain. What we have at a smaller scale are beers where the shelf life (and all beer has a shelf life) dramatically reduces. It makes me cringe, for example, to go into premium craft beer retailers only to see an IPA at room temperature and six months (or more) older. That’s a terrible example of beer.

What we’ve learned along the way about small scale production is that beer needs to be kept cold and consumed fresh to be at it’s best. We’ve learned that ingredients like grain and hops have seasonal variance. We’ve learned that beer, in and of itself, has it’s own seasons. It begins in the Spring of the beer, the process of designing and building that beer, conditioning it before release and the packaging for distribution.

Next comes the Summer of the beer, where the beer is at it’s most glorious and fresh and the nuances of flavour and aroma are at their premium quality. The Summer is the beer as the brewer intended. This is the time all beer should be consumed (although Summer depends on the beer style, of course).

Then comes the Autumn where ageing begins to take a toll as flavours drift away from that intended product. The beer is still drinkable, but not at it’s best. The beer has peaked and begins a decline. During this season the hop aromas begin to fade and the type of sweetness changes. The rate of change is relative to the beer style and the handling in distribution of the beer. For example, how consistent was the cold chain? Exposure to light over time? And the further in time you go into the life of the beer, the more chance that a few microbes are in there chewing away and breeding inside the package.

The inevitable Winter of beer is a stale wasteland of darker colour and cardboard and cloying sweetness from oxidation. The better a beer is brewed, packaged, distributed and stored, the longer you have as a window for your seasons. But Winter is coming, John Snow.

As a home brewer I’ve been sucked down the rabbit hole of ageing my Wee Heavy and Imperial Stout, to varying success. I’ve also had a Robust Porter with Brettanomyces Claussenii sitting downstairs for several years to watch it’s progression. I’ve learned the same lesson from mead and fruit wine. That lesson is to drink your beer in the appropriate Summer.

Unfortunately I gave Nigel Graham, the brewer at Welcome Swallow Brewery, a very late Autumn bottle of Wee Heavy just after Christmas. A month late he hadn’t tried it and I discovered the beer had fallen off a cliff. Cardboard, cloying, with a very faint indication left of the lovely complex malt flavour that made the beer interesting. All hop bitterness was gone. Sorry Nige (I hang my head in shame).

But the biggest crime was that had I filled my glass with that Wee Heavy in May or June last year this would have been a lovely experience. Why go to the lengths of making beer if you aren’t going to drink it in that beer’s peak Summer experience? Why slave and clean and spend money on a beer you aren’t consuming fresh? Would you buy other agricultural products (bread, dairy, meat) and let them sit on the kitchen counter until next month? No. Beer is no different, in that regard.

Handing over a bad beer and then knowing it fell off the cliff into Winter wasn’t a bad lesson in home brewing humility. At best, I’m a reasonable brewer to my personal standards of consumption. But it’s especially humbling when that person can see your warts in the sunshine, too. Sure, put some of your beer in the basement and watch how they change over time. But don’t serve them to Nige. Poor bastard.


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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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