Several factors cause the flavor of beer to change over time. In beers that haven’t been pasteurized (like most craft beers) residual yeast will continue to eat anything that is digestible, adding new flavors to the beer. The hop oils that lead to those beautiful aromas in hop-forward beers are volatile, so they dissipate over time. Most beer styles are best when the beer is fresh, but in some cases additional aging can be advantageous, leading to interesting new flavors. Typically higher alcohol, malt-forward beers are the best to age. Cellaring has become a hobby for many beer geeks, storing appropriate beers in a temperature-controlled environment for months to years. Each bottle is typically marked with its year of origin, which allows for vertical tasting, allowing the drinker to compare fresh beer with the aged. I don’t have much space in my current apartment, and haven’t done much cellaring, but occasionally I have the opportunity to taste some aged beers. I visited Mystic Brewery this summer and grabbed an aged version of Descendant (batch #002). Descendant is called a Suffolk dark ale, it’s a unique style that is part Irish stout, part English porter, and part Belgian dark (due to the use of Mystic’s house Renaud yeast strain). It is meant as a throwback to the older New England brewing tradition, so it is brewed with the addition of a popular ingredient in this area, molasses. If I was smart I would have grabbed a fresh bottle of Descendant for a direct comparison (I’ve had it before and enjoyed it), but I’m a moron and didn’t think of that until after I was enjoying the beer. Hopefully once I have some cellar space I’ll be able to try vertical aging.
Mystic Descendant pours midnight black with a pillowy tan head. The scent is mostly dark malts, coffee and chocolate. The malts lead the flavor too, notes of mocha, molasses, dark chocolate, caramel, currant and plum. The Renaud house yeast is more muted here than in some of the saisons Mystic brews, but adds a layer of complexity with touches of pepper, apple and pear. There isn’t much hop character, but the beer drys out at the end and isn’t overly sweet. This is a full bodied beer, perfect for sipping on a cold winter evening. At 7.0% ABV Descendant isn’t a light beer but it’s also not as heavy as some of the burly imperial stouts that many brewers favor. The finish is clean with a little residual malt sweetness. This is a really good beer, complex, flavorful and drinkable. When/if I get a cellar system set up I will try and do some proper aging with Mystic Descendant. Hoppy Boston score 4.5/5.
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