The Cellar Master’s Art and XX Bitch Creek Tasting

What does a Cellar Master do all day? Wait, mostly. Whether I’m aging beer in bottles, kegs, barrels or steel tanks, waiting is the true art of cellaring. Wait too long and you’ve got a beer that is over-oaked, too sour, oxidized or just plain stale. Impatience leads to beers that are undeveloped, flat, boozy, or simply don’t reach their potential.

At Grand Teton Brewing, the Cellar Master is responsible for all of our specialty beer projects. That includes the cask ale served in our pub (not much waiting required for that), barrel-aged beers, and other flavored beer projects. For example, I’ve got a keg of our Fest Bier aging on roasted chile peppers (about a 2 week project) and a bourbon-barrel full of Double Vision Doppelbock that has caught a wild yeast of some sort and is beginning to taste like cherries and sour a bit (about a 1 year project).

As you already know, I am also responsible for holding regular tastings of our Cellar Reserve beers so we can let beer drinkers like you know how these beers are developing with age. My fellow brewers help me out with these tastings, since five sets of taste buds will discover more flavors than just one.

Speaking of tastings, here are some notes on our XX Bitch Creek, bottled about a year and a half ago.

XX Bitch Creek

7.5% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled September 2008

Original Description:

Bitch Creek ESB was first brewed in 2003, and perfectly balances big malt sweetness and robust hop flavor for a full-bodied mahogany ale. It has quickly become our best-selling beer, as well as our most-critically acclaimed, having won medals-including two golds— at four out of the past five Great American Beer Festivals.

XX Bitch Creek Double ESB is all that and more. We took the Bitch Creek recipe and doubled everything: double the malt, double the hops, twice the flavor.

Tasting Notes from March 2010:

Slides into a small snifter the deepest color of red you can imagine. The beer is crystal clear but of such a dark hue it seems almost black until held to the light. It’s like watching a deep burgundy sunset through a few inches of cold, clear water. A thin, tan head tops off the scene, providing a perfectly balanced counterpoint to the body–Contrapunctus I in a glass.

The aroma is piney, promising a good heap of hop flavors to come rushing out of that first sip. That’s not all, though; an earthiness–almost musky–lies just around the corner, and this aroma makes no promises.

The flavor is mostly malt-driven. Roasty, dark chocolate flavors abound, creating a sharp, dry bitterness. Just as the dark malt flavors starts to fade a more substantial, lingering hop bitterness slides in, barely noticed, to loiter on the palate. After a few sips a touch of nuttiness arrives, leaving a fairly dry finish despite the very full body. Given the massive amount of flavor packed into this beer, I keep expecting to catch a whiff of fusel alcohols or some other harshness, but I detect none. The XX Bitch Creek is clean, complex, and intelligent.

Cellar Master Says: The time to drink is now, my friends. If you’ve been patient enough to hold onto this beer drink it soon. The flavors have really developed into a cohesive yet nuanced beer. However, I sense that before long the balance of hop and malt bitterness will begin to collapse, leaving this beer a crumbling shadow of its former self.

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