Beer Review 0048: North Coast Old Stock Ale 2011

Old Stock Ale, the 2011 vintage, comes to us from North Coast Brewing, located in Fort Bragg, California. This beer is different from the majority of brews featured on this website in the fact that it can be cellared and aged — each year, a new vintage is released and you are encouraged to buy at least two bottles, one to enjoy in the present, and one to “lay down” for as long as you’d like for future tasting.

First, about the brewery: North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich (his signature is scrawled across the label of Old Stock Ale) and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings, which is where Old Stock Ale fits in. I have reviewed one North Coast offering before, Old Rasputin, which I gave 92 points.

Released yearly, Old Stock Ale is an example of an old ale, which is a highly complex and full-bodied malt drink. As mentioned earlier, this beer has a high alcohol by volume content (11.9% ABV for 2011 — it may vary depending upon year) and is suitable for aging. Now, that is probably enough fodder for an entire article unto itself, but aging beer is about like aging wine, minus the bottles being stored on their side (store beer upright). If you have a beer suitable for aging, keep it in the coolest part of your house away from light and you should be good to go. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need a special cellar.

So what can you expect after you age a beer? Expect the flavors to mellow and blend into each other. It most always is a good thing; beers become more complex and smoother with age, sometimes creating something radically different from when you first sampled. Which is why, if you have an age-worthy beer, you buy a bottle to try immediately so you can get a flavor baseline.

A couple of notes about how this beer review differs from all my other reviews: As you can see, I used a wine glass instead of my regular mug. This is because since Old Stock Ale is so high in ABV, only pouring half the beer into the wine glass paces myself for responsible drinking. I should also note that I allowed this beer to warm up for thirty minutes prior to drinking.

The pour yielded no head, just an ultra-fizzy cover that faded quickly, like soda pop. The liquid itself was a beautiful deep ruby red, clear with no particles or sediment. There was no lacing to speak of, and immediately after the pour, there were columns of bubbles rising to the surface. These disappeared about five minutes after release from bottle.

Aromatics took a turn to where many high alcohol beers do: medicinal. There were prominent cherries, but mixed with the extreme alcohol, it unfortunately turned Nyquil-ish. But there are also some good things to point out, particularly the note of caramel present, and a slight coffee scent. There’s also plenty of dark fruits like fig and prune, very reminiscent of port. But the cherry medicine-like scent was too prominent, making this a turn-off for the nose.

The taste reveals a bouquet of rich dark fruits, very sticky sugar, some hazelnut and toffee. The finish gives a huge alcohol kick, which warms the entire body and makes the drink worth the price of admission. The texture isn’t exactly thick (although I circled it on my review sheet) as it is sugary sticky; I just used ‘thick’ as a descriptor for how sticky this beer is.

The final verdict is this: If you have a bottle of 2011 Old Stock Ale, you’d probably be wise to sit on it. Some age would probably do this beer good, particularly with the medicinal aroma. The flavors, while complex, play off like there is more to be revealed.

It’s a good tasting beer to my palate already, but with time these rough and dodgy edges will probably smooth.

North Coast Old Stock Ale 2011, 78 points. Price: $3.49 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

Some might ask, why bother if you have to wait for the beer to age for it to be at its best? Well, patience is often rewarded. Try it.

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