Three years ago I bought three bottles of Old Manchester, Marble Brewery's collaboration with John Keeling from Fuller's. I tasted it then and wondered how it might age. One year on I tried it again and there wasn't much change apart from a hint of something medicinal (this should have been a clue for what was to come). So I decided to leave the last bottle for a further two years and for an occasion with some other beer lovers who would be interested in sampling the evolution of a beer like this.
The opportunity arrived when our good friend Nate "Mr Drink'n'Eat" Nolan invited me and two other beer writers, Matt "Total" Curtis who writes at Total Ales and Chris Hall who writes on his own blog as well as for the brand new site Beer Insider. We were at Nate's to try some South African beers which impressed me with highlights from Devils Peak's Blockhouse IPA and American Pale Ale. But we also took the opportunity to bring some interesting beers from our own stashes. I dusted off the Old Manchester and took it down to Camberwell.
A beer like this can become explosive over time so towels were prepared for the inevitable fountain. When I pulled the cork nothing came but it was obvious as soon as the bottle was opened that there had been significant development since 2013. The first soured sniff worried me but then a distinct "brettyness" took over and excitement kicked in. We poured it out, all tangerine and murk, and the murmurs of appreciation started.
Boak and Bailey recently wrote a short piece on the difficulty in describing the character of beer brewed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces (known as Brett to his friends). The established comparisons of horse blanket and barnyard don't quite cut it and really the best descriptor is Orval-like. Orval is a Belgian Trappist ale whose unique flavour is influenced by its fermentation with Brett. And Orval-like is what has happened to Old Manchester. Whether it was intentional or not, there is Brett in this beer and it has turned a good beer into a wonderful one.
The hop bitterness is still big with that distinctive orange peel citrus character that was there from the beginning. It seems richer than before with an almost oily mouthfeel.
That Brettyness comes though with spicy and woody otherness. That medicinal note that I barely tasted in 2013 was indeed a sign of age and it has developed wonderfully.
It accompanied the cheese spread admirably. The Stilton made a perfect match - this deep and complex beer able to stand up against the powerful blue cheese.
I could wax on about this beer for pages but it seems mean to do so when it's now so difficult to get hold of. I'm thoroughly delighted that the experiment worked, it really was worth the wait. I can highly recommend aging beers for yourselves. Orval is one of the best beers for aging and shows Brett's development in the bottle clearly. Get hold of four bottles, stick them under the stairs and try one every couple of months to really appreciate this intriguing flavour,