Ok, first of all, this is a vintage Rogue Old Crustacean Barleywine that was bottled in 1999; I enjoyed this with one of my best friends at the Beer Bistro a couple weeks ago. So we tasted it over 10 years after it was bottled. Awesome. This is a big barleywine that was originally 11.5% abv. This sort of thing begs to be aged. And coming from Rogue, and the hop-focused west coast, you can be be confident that it was once a very bitter and hoppy barleywine with amazing construction. I love this kind of stuff. Being able to see what happens to certain beers after years or a decade of rest and contemplation makes my hairs stand on end.
Its hard to know what to expect, but with practice, you can learn how to estimate and hypothesize what will happen to certain beers after time. The key is patience. When you buy beers of greater strength buy 2 or more and put one away for a few years. Come back to in 1, 2 3 or more years later and see what happens. It can be a litle nerve racking to worry about what could be happening to your beer in all that time, but put them away, forget about them, and come back years later to find long lost treasures. Its worth the wait!
The Old Crustacean came in one of the smallest beer bottles you will find, 270ml. And for good reason. A barleywine is not a session beer, for one. And this one from Rogue is big and rich with a mouth smacking punch of hop bitterness at 110 IBUs. Thus, it should be served to you in a big wide snifter with about 4 to 6 ounces in it, as it was for us.
It poured out silky and oil like building no head and with close to zero carbonation. It really fell out of the bottle with heavy intent. It lay in the snifter glowing a dark amber brown shining with blacks, and a murky dirty red tint. The nose was potent but smooth with richly dark berries, oak, molasses, hints of leather and dark sweet tobacco. Sweet malts show caramel and toffee cleanly on the nose and a whiff of alcoholic warmth. It hints at bitter, but it’s hard to tell whats going to hit your tongue.
Sure enough though, a big wide and malty wave rushes into your palate with woody and dense hop bitterness that has been mellowed over 11 years into a deeply complex and massively bitter sensation. Its most apparent first, before any malts can come in. The usual fresh, piny and citrus hop bitter aromas that you would expect from a west coast barleywine have melted into a deep and round powerfully bitter mouthfeel. Resin and the white pith under the citrus peel shows bitter right at the back of your mouth.
Thats really they key here – this beer is very bitter; massively bitter. But its not aggressive or hugely aromatic. The bitter is built into the depths of this beer and helps balance out a storm of malt richness. This is an awesome beer with malt flavors that I have never experienced before. Earlier I mentioned leather and tobacco. This was amazing. The sweet and earthy sensations of dark and still moist tobacco and leather was hugely flavorful blended into a round melty caramel and burn brown sugar flavor.
The beer brings huge warmth and big complexity showing additional flavors of sticky dark fruits, port and oak. Its really remarkable. The finish is bitter and dry and lingers in your mouth for hours. Seriously, by the time I got home and rested I could still feel the Rogue in my mouth. Crazy stuff. Who knows what will happen in another decade…