tl;dr: If you like your cherry porter sweet and fruity, have this beer fairly fresh. If you prefer your cherry porter smoother and a touch sour, age this beer for at least year or more. [Guest post from my wife, Sara]
Comparing two vintages of Bend Brewing Company’s Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter made me realize something embarrassingly obvious: beer awards, like restaurant reviews or the Oscars, are entirely subjective and won’t necessarily match up with my own tastes. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to apply such common sense to beer when I’m so good at it keeping it in mind about other things.
The Lovely originally won Bronze in 2012 at the GABF and comments from the judges indicated that a bit of age on the beer would make all the difference. Sure enough, BBC submitted the same beer the next year — now aged as suggested — and it took home the 2013 Gold.
As friends know, we love to age beers. For the dark, roasty, full-bodied brews we enjoy, aging tends to bring out hidden notes and depths not found in the beer’s first few months.
And yet … the outcome was very different for me with this beer.
I first checked in a Lovely on Untappd in December 2013, calling it “a wonderful symphony of flavors” and noting that I was “looking for a touch more body after aging.” In honor of the Session theme of porters, we opened up two different bottles of Lovely side by side – one aged since 2013 and the other brewed much more recently, sometime between late 2015 to early 2016. Now, it could be that the recipe has been tweaked ever so slightly over the past couple years, so perhaps not all of my observations can be pinpointed just to aging.
The 2013 Lovely had an aroma of licorice, cherry, and maple. The flavor reminded me of a watermelon jolly rancher … not entirely in a positive way. The mouthfeel was definitely smoother than the 2016, which surprised me given that the 2013 had more head and a lacing that lingered much longer. I kept coming back to the 2013 because the mix of flavors was just so darn, well, confusing. Jollyrancher one moment, and wild raw honey the next. Ultimately though, the 2016 held my interest longer.
At first, the aroma of the 2016 hinted at far more hops than it’s older sibling. Subtle hops, but definitely bitter. Fortunately, the flavor was all fruit — juicy, prickly cherry fruit that had me smacking my lips together for the sheer yumminess of it.
This is probably unfair to the beers, but the deciding factor came down to some nuts. Yes, nuts. A couple days before the tasting, I had roasted some pecans with maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon (nom nom nom!). The stark difference in how the pecans paired with the two versions of the same beer was rather startling! For the 2013, the sweet and roasty flavors of the pecans actually made the beer even more sour.
I don’t like sour.
The 2016, on the other hand, became more wine / sherry / port-like with the pecans. A delicious combination. For the record, Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese paired very well with both beers.
All this to say, don’t look a beer award in the mouth (is that the right metaphor? I don’t even know.). And if a porter isn’t broken, you don’t do anything – not even aging – to fix it.