For this review I reached deep into the depths of the cellar and pulled out the oldest beer I’ve ever tasted, McAuslan Brewing’s St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011.
For some perspective, when this bottle was produced: planking was a thing, people said “winning” a lot and Donald Trump was on TV bossing around Jose Conseco, La Toya Jackson and Gary Busey.
At that time I was still blissfully ignorant of craft beer, quenching my thirst with macro swill and gin and tonics.
I picked up this bottle in 2013 when the Montreal brewery released a gift pack through the LCBO for the Christmas season. The box contained a bottle each of from 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages. I intended to buy a new bottle each year, and one day do a side-by-side tasting to study how age affects the beer.
However, the 2014 and 2015 vintages never made to Ontario, and the trio languished in my cellar for two more years before I finally cracked the 2011 bottle for this review.
This beer is classified as a barley wine, which is a very strong English-style ale, and is brewed just once a year. Characterized by high alcohol content, many prefer to let barley wine rest for a year or more to smooth it out and calm any boozy heat that may be present in a fresh batch. Some say barley wine can be stored almost indefinitely, in a cool, dark place.
As it comes out of the bottle the half-decade old liquid looks a lot like apricot nectar. Some chucks of sediment loosened from the bottom of the bottle and, despite best efforts, a couple globs sneak into the glass at the tail end of the pour.
The beer smells wonderful. It’s very malty with bright, fruity and floral esters. There are also strong notes of grains, wood, caramel and brown sugar. The 10% alcohol can be detected with a mild sting that hits the nostrils.
The flavour is a very smooth, well integrated malty blend of fruits like figs and apricots with brown sugar and grains. This is very sweet, as close as a beer can get to liquid candy. It has a thick, chewy consistency that leaves a sticky upper lip after each satisfying sip.
This is a potent and indulgent brew, best enjoyed when you have nowhere to be anytime soon.
Brewer: McAuslan Brewing
Location: 5080 St-Ambroise, Montreal, Quebec
Beer: St-Ambroise Vintage Ale (2011)
Style: Barley wine
Alcohol: 10% abv
Very limited. This beer has not been available in Ontario since 2013. New batches may arrive in the future. It can be found in Quebec.
Do you cellar any beer? What’s the oldest beer you’ve tasted?