STARTING WITH the can opener, which is mankind’s most important invention, it’s clear to me that the entirety of human evolution has been aimed squarely at speeding up the consumption of beer.
Think about it: Pizza delivery, the corner taproom, ATMs, 24 hours of ESPN, those La-Z-Boy recliners with built-in coolers, beer bongs, wives and ice are all the product of man’s innate desire to drink beer, and drink it right now.
Thus, it goes against the molecular substance of our being to actually wait – and I do mean wait – to open a beer.
Yet that’s exactly what Boston Beer advised back in the mid-1990s when it packaged its Sam Adams Triple Bock in distinctive, cobalt-blue bottles. This was the first of what eventually would be known as “extreme” beer, a beer “so extraordinary,” according to the company press release, “that in a single sip, it would do away with all preconceptions of the taste and flavors that are usually found in beer.”
And, they said, it would only get better if I waited.
So I bought a sixpack back in 1995, scarfed down five of them and then – against the tide of a thousand millennia of male evolution – hid one in a cool, dark corner of my basement.
Through good times and bad, the bottle sat undisturbed. Through weddings and funerals, through Clinton and Monica, through Y2K and 9/11, through three consecutive NFC championship defeats and a joyous Super Bowl week, through Cheney and Rumsfeld, through Smarty and Afleet, through countless times over a decade when I might’ve savored a sip, the bottle remained unviolated.
Most beer, of course, can’t stand the wait. But there was no need for a born-on date with an ale this big and meaty. Brewed with maple syrup and aged in whiskey barrels, it was full of complex flavors that surely would mellow over time. At 17.5 percent alcohol, it was nearly as strong as port or Madeira. It could last a century, perhaps, without going bad.
My expiration date, on the other hand, seems to be approaching a bit more readily. And so, with little fanfare on New Year’s Day, I finally reached for the Triple Bock.
Ten years is long enough for any man to wait for a beer.
Indeed, as I peeled off the waxy cover over the bottle’s cork, it occurred to me that this whole notion of patience as a virtue is completely overblown. Here I had waited all this time for a good beer to get better. Could it possibly live up to my expectations?
With waiting come doubt and anxiety. And worse. They claimed this beer would mellow, but take a look around: with age, more often, comes disintegration. The bones creak, the mind weakens . . .
The cork slid out neatly.
The beer poured smoothly.
Dark as ink, no head, billows of aroma. Prunes, I smelled prunes. And on my lips, black cherry. Then a certain meatiness, like smoked ribs, and still more fruit. This was no beer, it was something else. I loved it, I hated it. I sipped it again, this bittersweet beer.
And then it was gone. The anticipation, the moment, the beer – gone forever.
The next day, I called William Reed, the former Samuel Adams brewer who is now co-owner of Standard Tap, the Northern Liberties beer restaurant. Reed had helped make a few batches of Triple Bock at the old Samuel Adams brewpub (now Nodding Head) on Sansom Street.
He told me how difficult it was to ferment. Yeast, he said, tends to die off at alcohol spikes over 14 percent.
I told him about my bottle and he asked how it tasted after so many years. I told him about the overwhelming fruitiness.
And then Reed said a funny thing: “I wonder how my keg tastes now?”
Turns out, before Reed shut down his old brewpub, he carted out the last quarter-keg of his original Triple Bock. It’s remained untouched ever since in the basement at Standard Tap.
What are you waiting for?
“I’m not sure. ” He paused. “We should give it a taste. ”
And taste it we did.
It wasn’t the same beer that had sat so long in my basement. This one was more astringent. This one had none of my memories.
I told Reed that his keg tasted better. But I wouldn’t trust my judgment. Waiting 10 years for a beer does unnatural things to a man.
TOAST TO BEN
Joe Sixpack, beer reporter, invites Philadelphia beer lovers to McGillin’s Olde Ale House to toast Benjamin Franklin on his 300th birthday.
It was Franklin who notably proclaimed, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. ” The Yards and Iron Hill breweries have made ales based on Franklin’s recipe for spruce-flavored beer. Both beers and hearty appetizers will be featured at Joe Sixpack’s Toast to Ben Franklin, 6-8 p.m. Jan. 19 at McGillin’s, 1310 Drury St. $25, $27 at the door, 215-735-5562 or www.JoeSixpack.net.
This week’s Joe Sixpack by Don Russell was written with a bottle of Snake River Lager. Drain this Vienna-style lager with a plate of spicy tacos.