Some when, between 2003 and 2006, I visited Tuckers Maltings, in Newton Abbot, and bought a bottle of the 2003 Empress Porter. It was one of 2008 produced for that vintage. As such, I was somewhat reluctant to drink it.
In the decade since, I have acquired at least one bottle of each of the vintages released, 2006, 2010, and 2013. With that first bottle being 10 years old, and with four different vintages in my possession, it seems like a good time to open them up, one after the other, to see the effect time has had on them.
I’m starting with the 2013 bottling. Each of the beers is 10.5% in strength, Some beers have the alcohol on the nose, however, this seemingly doesn’t. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this beer, for me, is that it doesn’t taste like a 10.5% stout. I was expecting some rather warming alcohol to be present, that would mellow out over time. It would seem that it’s perfect to drink now (unlike Goose Island’s Bourbon County, which I have found benefits from a bit of time to let the alcohol mellow, and the flavours come out).
Flavourwise, there’s everything that I want from a stout in here, rich chocolate and dried fruits, and a burnt malt aftertaste, it is, I feel, a perfect beer for me and my personal tastes, and that is just as it is, before it has been aged for 3, 7 or 10 years…
The 2010 vintage is next. There’s a distinct difference on the nose. It smells richer, and as if there is more alcohol in there, it seems rather dominated somewhat by dried berry fruits. This comes through in the taste as well. It seems more like a 10.5% beer than the 2013 does. The alcohol feels much more warming, and the overall experience is much more enjoyable.
Third for the night is the 2006 vintage. Contrary to my expectations, the apparent alcohol seems to be increasing with the age of the bottle. With this bottle, the alcohol can be detected on the nose. The mouth feel this time is different, with the beer feeling much more tingly on the tongue. The flavours of the 2013 are still there, but they are shadowed by the warming effect of the alcohol.
Finally, the oldest of the lot, the 2003 vintage. The aroma is much more burnt rubber than dried fruit, though the dried fruit is still present in the taste. Of the four, this is certainly my favourite, though the 2013 is just as worthy of praise as it is now.
I went into this with a vague idea of how I expected a 10.5% imperial porter to age over the course of a decade. Whilst some of those expectations were met, many weren’t. In either case, it’s been a very enjoyable night, and I look forward to building my collection, and doing it again in 20 years time.