This review may look like a repeat, but today we’re actually looking at cellared bottles of the SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout and the Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout. Our review of the current releases is here, so it’ll be interesting to see what a little bit of age does to these two beers.
SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout (サンクトガーレン・インペリアルチョコレートスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 50; OG – 1.090; hops – EK Goldings, Cascade, Willamette, Nugget
Pour – Black, smooth and creamy but less foam
Aroma – Nuts, chocolate, licorice, plum
Flavor – Licorice is strong, very sweet in the middle, chocolate bitter and nutty on the finish, aftertaste is a leathery oak
Our cellaring program, if you can call it that, here at BeerEast consists of throwing the beer in the pantry and praying that the 35C-plus temperatures in Tokyo don’t kill it. Actually, this is the first home-cellared beer tasting ever for us, so I don’t have a lot of confidence that the beers will have improved with age, but at least we’ll know whether we have a viable cellaring method or not. It’s certainly a low-cost cellaring method!
The SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout has a stated shelf life of 2 years, and the expiration date on our 2015 version is 2017/02/14. So running that through the calculator… yes, so we’re having it at about the 17-month mark. I’ve actually had a properly cellared 2 year old version of this beer at a bar before, and while I didn’t take notes I do recall thinking that it had aged quite gracefully, and was a distinct beer from the fresh version. Let’s see what our experience of it this time around is.
The fresh version of the beer was a pretty good one, but it was a little bit harsh in its bitterness, and perhaps a bit overly bitter for an imperial stout. Letting it age softens and rounds out the beer, though. The astringent hops naturally fade after so long, but there’s still an appropriate amount of bitterness. But in addition to that we get a decent dose of licorice, and still a fair amount of chocolate and nuttiness. The finish is still oaken and leathery as it was in the regular version, but with less of the hop bitterness it stands out a bit more on the finish.
So here, I don’t think the basic qualities of the aged beer are so different from the fresh version. It’s certainly more rounded and mellow when aged, with some of the harshness from the hops having worn off, and I do prefer the aged version. However, I find it to be not terribly different from the original beer, which is a good one but mellowed out a bit here. The change isn’t too drastic but the cellared version is a little bit better, so we’ll put in the win column.
Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout (ベアードビール・ダークスカイインペリアルスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 80
Pour – Oily, black, not much carbonation
Aroma – Plum, oak, cherry
Flavor – Cherry initially, roast and nuts on the finish, overall very mild
The Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout also has a shelf life of two years, and although this is the 2015 season release version it was bottled on 2014/09/06. That puts our tasting at close to the two year limit, at about 22 months. Let’s see what a couple of years have done for this one.
Similar to what I felt with the SanktGallen, the aged Dark Sky behaves as a similar but softer version of the fresh beer. However, with the Dark Sky originally being a nicely balanced but somewhat mild imperial stout, I think it actually suffers a bit from aging. We don’t see any new flavors or new emphasis brought out here, but with the original being relatively soft itself it loses a bit of badly needed bite with the aging. It still has the cherry and roast qualities noticeable, but there was a distinct lack of bitterness and sweetness that rendered them flat.
Looking at these two beers together, if the original set of reviews can be trusted then I think that the harshness of the SanktGallen means I’d rather have the Baird Dark Sky, but as they age the harshness of the SanktGallen mellows out and turns that one into a nicely balanced and still flavorful beer, whereas the Baird fades a bit and lacks a bit of punch. Ultimately perhaps this could have been predicted from their original profiles, but it was interesting to actually try it out and see what happens after 1-2 years of (admittedly poor) cellaring.
There are two conclusions I draw here. One, neither beer is really worth cellaring – neither of them changes significantly enough to be worth it. The second conclusion that I draw here is that really, the Swan Lake Imperial Stout is definitely a cut above these two in terms of Japanese imperial stouts. Even with aging, neither the SanktGallen Imperial Chocolate Stout nor the Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout can match the richness, complexity, and balance of the Swan Lake Imperial Stout. Of course, the Swan Lake costs almost twice as much, so it’s harder to answer whether I’d rather have two good but not great imperial stouts versus one awesome one, but I do know that cellaring the SanktGallen or the Baird isn’t going to put either one on top.