I didn't realise I'd bought an antique. But it turned out that the XVII barley wine from Utah's Uinta brewery which I acquired at The House of Trembling Madness in York during the summer has a bottling date of 23 November 2010: so over two years in the bottle by the time I opened it. Would this be a good thing or a bad thing?
At 10.4% ABV it's certainly a robust beer, pouring thickly into the glass and presenting a murky mahogany body under a thick old-ivory foam. There's that very American aroma of bags of crystal malt laced with bags of C-hops: a messy collision between the toffee lorry and the grapefruit train. The hop aromas are muted, though, and the sweetness almost shades towards syrup notes, indicating immediately that this is perhaps not the hop powerhouse it once was. It tastes beautifully warming and there's definitely still a sherbety freshness to the hops here, with hardly any trace of bitter harshness. The thick, linctus-like texture spreads across the palate and slips silkily down the throat, spreading smooth caramel and naughty liqueur chocolates as it goes. Only a slight twang of stale cardboard arrives at the end to indicate that everything is not as it once was.
I'm reminded in particular of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot in its more mature form, so perhaps this one too is a beer that needs a year or two to calm down. A superb sipper, it's really hard to know if freshness would be much of an improvement.