A reward for the patient or amnesiac
The first time I was introduced to Westvleteren 12, the legendary "yellow cap" with near-mythical status around the world as quite possibly the best beer in the world, I was firmly warned upon opening the bottle to stand back, keep a close eye on it, and wait a good minute before attempting to pour it into a glass. While I wondered whether this stoic ritual was merely an indication of the presumed reverence of the virgin taster, I noticed something peculiar happen within the glass. As a puff of vapor steamed off the lip of the bottle, I noticed the actual volume of beer within appear to grow slowly in size, pausing only at the point when I worried some of the valuable stuff might end up on the not-so-valuable Toronado bartop. Turns out, the unknown quantity of CO2 gasses that collect in this considerably alcoholic, well-aged, bottle conditioned, and highly carbonated beer can lead to the occasional volcanic eruption upon opening. As the slight change in temperature between the liquid and the outside air changes the level of solublity of the immersed gas, the collecting head of gas in the neck of the bottle makes the liquid puff up noticeably in a strangely lifelike manner. Pouring the beer into a glass before allowing at least a little of the gas to dissipate would result in a great enough temperature change that the beer would foam uncontrollably, eliciting peals of celibate laughter from brewing monks everywhere.
Why am I rambling on about the liquid thermodynamics of this exquisitely rare beer? Well, if you were either patient enough or forgetful enough to have cellared a bottle of the cork-finished holiday ale we brewed last year, you're certainly in for a treat if you decide to open it now. While washing bottles for our X'06 dark Belgian strong with secret herbs and spices (and no, there's no mustard in there) and in need of some inspiration to keep me scrubbing, I opened the last bottle of our X'05 dark Belgian strong with other secret herbs and spices, and immediately wished I had made much, much more.
Upon releasing the cork, a snake of fog drifted out of the neck and lingered in the air like some sort of malt genie. And as it faded, the liquid in the bottle began the same expanding illusion that I'd only seen in the Westveletern, the result of a well-kept cellar ale loaded with more volumes of CO2 than the atmosphere knew what to do with. While at first the taste had the slight taint of glass, it quickly evolved into a velvety-textured complexity of dried fruits, toffee and brown sugar. While certainly not a contender for capping the yellow cap, it's the closest we've ever gotten to the wicked and mysterious essence that defines the classic Belgian holiday ale. You may want to take a quick peek in your pantry to see if there's one still gathering dust in the corner... If not, X'06 is hitting the bottling line this coming weekend.