How Does It Age? – Sawdust City Long Dark Voyage to Uranus

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I used to inadvertently age beer, hanging onto the bottles I was particularly fond of until either a shelf collapsed or, inevitably, many of them went bad. But every now and again I would open up a bottle, long forgotten, and be taken completely by surprise with how differently it tasted than I remembered.

Cellaring beer is not a new concept, but it has been gaining increasing popularity among Ontario beer drinkers. For the past two years, I’ve been working a dedicated cellar of my own, with a goal of not just enjoying the aged beers in mind, but also seeing how a beer has evolved when compared with the freshest batch. Kept in the area of my apartment with the most consistent temperature and with limited exposure to light, I’m finally getting to a stage where I can start sampling my collection.

Under the right conditions, there are some beer styles that can develop remarkably well over time and some that can’t. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but usually, these beers are high in alcohol content and not overly reliant on hop flavours. One such style, in particular, occupies a great deal of shelf space in my cellar – and that’s Russian Imperial Stout.

I’ve had three bottles of Sawdust City‘s Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus, ‘Uranal’ Imperial Stout, in my cellar since November 2013.  When the most recent shipment hit LCBO shelves in February, I picked up three more cans, with the intention of comparing vintages side by side for years to come.

When it comes to cellaring the hard part is waiting and the fun part is having a taste – finally getting to find out whether or not there was a favourable transformation. And when it came to Long, Dark Voyage, waiting any longer was out of the question.

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It’s important to note, when comparing samples, that these two beers aren’t quite the same. Apart from the older version being in 650 ml bottles and the new in 473 ml cans there remain a few big differences. For starters, the 2013 Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus was produced while Sawdust City was still brewing out of Black Oak in Etobicoke. Since then they’ve opened in Gravenhurst, where the 2014 batch was made – using pure Muskoka water. Water aside, the ingredients used from one year to the next seem unchanged, at least on paper. But somewhere along the way, the beer picked up an addition 1.2 points in alcohol.

Great, so how do they compare?

Long Dark Voyage - Side by Side

2013 –

When placed beside the 2014 version, there are very few visual differences between the two. As you might expect, the head on the older one takes longer to develop and sits looser and more airy atop the beer. The head is also a slightly paler colour, more of a dark cream than a tan.

My first impression as I turned my focus entirely to this beer was that that it smelled awesome; rich and inviting with brandy, dark chocolate and a coffee bean earthiness. On the first sip, dark fruit hits immediately with a surprisingly strong amount of herbal bitterness. As the initial bite begins to die down there’s cacao, vanilla, burnt sugar, licorice and caraway, rye and roasty malt as well as a nuttiness. It has a port-like quality to it – smooth and complex, fruit and caramelized sugar. It finishes off with a bit of ash, coffee grounds and bitter dark chocolate.

2014 – 

On the other hand, the younger batch pours long and dark, with a thick tan head. This one’s aroma attacks a lot more than the other, with a stronger roast presence of coffee, chocolate and nut.

It drinks creamy and smooth. Chocolate and molasses are quick off the mark, supported by coffee, butter rum, toffee with a bit of honey, and a noticeable hop presence; some herb and citrus. The alcohol is pretty well masked throughout, but you can pick up on the heat from time to time. There’s a nice underlying smokiness that balances out the syrupy sweetness towards the end.

Both are very good. They share some flavour similarities, but offer up very different experiences. The former being decadent and fruity, and the newer quite roasty with some teeth to it.

Worth the wait? Definitely. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try one now.

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