First Draughts

Robert Alan Wendeborn

Know the limits of age – for beer and our bodies

Ar 180109870
David Holub/DGO

"Old Euphoria"
Ar 180109870
David Holub/DGO

"Old Euphoria"

This is probably the last column I will write on this computer. It’s almost 10 years old. It’s super slow to load web pages. The keyboard no longer lights up. The DVD slot has a copy of “The Fifth Element” stuck inside. One of the USB ports doesn’t work. The battery is completely shot (I’ve replaced it three times already). While typing this column, it has died twice because the charger became momentarily unplugged. Any pop-up cripples the machine. Forget about online shopping, streaming TV shows, or watching porn. All it can really do is scroll through Facebook and Twitter and type. It’s a really good typewriter.

I could have been a better computer owner. I could have powered it down when not using it. I could have used it more efficiently (currently, I have 20 tabs open and four different programs running). I could have updated the operating system and done all the upgrades and system maintenance in a timely manner.

Oh well. Sic transit gloria mundi. Glory fades. Youth is fleeting. Almost everything is really, even ourselves. I feel bones creak and crack when I wake up. I look in the mirror and see wrinkles, gray hairs in my beard and front and center in my hair. It’s long, my hair. I’ve been growing it out since I lived in Durango, and a small stand of long, gray hairs wisp from my crown. I can feel my own age as a sort of weight I drag with me throughout my day. As I walk up and down the brewhouse steps, as I throw bags of grain into the mill, I feel every pound of it. I feel every heave and every step.

Beer, too. Most beer falls apart with age. Light slowly leaks into bottles, the small amount of oxygen in a can will gradually oxidize the entirety of the contained liquid, the hop polyphenols break down and get lost to time. The fate of most beer is either slow destruction or a quick trip down your gullet.

The last time I was in Durango was the end of May for River Days and I bought several of the last cases of Euphoria. I was beyond excited to see it still around and it still tasted fresh. That perfect balance of fruity Simcoe hops, sweetened by some caramel malts, which also impart a little hint of roasty goodness. When I tell people about Euphoria, I always tell them it’s like Dale’s Pale Ale, except it’s good. It’s one of my favorite beers from my winters in Durango.

I saved a few cans of Euphoria for a few months, just so could have some summertime nostalgia in little 12-ounce doses. It does not age well (most hoppy beers do not). By October, (three months after its best-by date? Four months? Idk ...), it tasted like an oxidized Pinstripe. Those super fresh Simcoe hops had turned to a murky earthy/tannic/vegetal tone and the caramel malts dominated the palate with a roasty burnt-coffee-left-in-the-pot appeal, which altogether led to an elderly-uncle’s-overly-damp-woodshop experience. Though, I didn’t do everything I could to keep it fresh. It spent a few car rides warm, then didn’t make it directly into the fridge upon arrival. I’ll take partial blame for sure.

Euphoria is by no means the worst beer I’ve had after the expiration date. I recently had a blackberry sour from a brewery that will not be named and it was absolutely terrible. It was oxidized (how a sour became oxidized enough to overpower the acid was a first for me), the fruit tasted rotten and overripe, and there was a kind of mold/mildew aroma that I can’t even say where it came from. I’ve had their beers before and was surprised by how bad this was. I checked the date and it was almost a year old. I bought it off a warm shelf at a bottle shop.

I’ve had similar experiences with Left Hand Brewing’s dark beers. Fresh, these beers are mind-blowingly good, the best dark beers in the world even. Store them warm and give them six months after the best-by date and they taste like someone smoked a blunt of cacao nibs and cinnamon.

This is all to say, in the new year, let’s know our limits as we age, do everything we can to keep that limit as high as possible, and let’s drink our beer as fresh as possible.

Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.