Cellaring FAQ

Discussion in 'Cellaring Beer' started by stupac2, Oct 3, 2013.

  1. jedwards

    jedwards

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    pdawson, but I don't think he stops by regularly. I'm seeing him tomorrow so I'll see if he can swing in and chat.
     
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  2. ASak10

    ASak10

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    Ah nice. Yeah I don't have any particular questions, maybe others do, but figured he should get credit where it is due!
     
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  3. stupac2

    stupac2

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    So, at the recommendation in another thread I picked up Dawson's Vintage Beer, and I have to say that so far I am incredibly unimpressed and pretty disappointed. I should probably finish the book and do a whole review, but I don't think the last half of the book (which doesn't cover the science of aging) will change my mind appreciably.

    Let's start with what's good. The book is definitely well written. It's engaging, it's well organized, the pictures are nice (though on kindle that's of muted benefit), it's just really well done. He's either a skilled editor or he has one, which is shockingly uncommon.

    That said, there are some serious flaws. The biggest thing, as someone who has spent a nontrivial amount of time as a science instructor, is that he doesn't use science to illuminate, just to describe. Is it nice to know the various chemical species involved with reactions? Yeah, sure. And one of the few things that I think is valuable that I've learned is that alpha acids oxidize into trans-2-nonal, which could actually be handy (though, in general, who is aging beers high in alpha acids?). But most of the reactions are just "this chemical with these flavors turns into this chemical with these flavors" and frankly adding in the names of the chemicals isn't actually teaching anything, it's just zoology. It kind of feels like you gave someone with an appreciable-but-not-overwhelming knowledge of aging beer an intro to O-Chem book and told him to go nuts.

    For instance, he mentions activation energy, and how that explains the temperature ranges you want to cellar in (which is great), but then doesn't mention the activation energies for any reactions. What's the point of even bringing it up then? The discussion about cellar temperature makes an interesting assertion, that cellar temperatures should be kept around fermentation temperatures, but doesn't really back it up, and he tacks on "10 degrees lower" to get the ~65 fermentation temperature down to the classic 55 without any good reason at all.

    I don't know anything about this guy, but I'm strongly inclined to think that he was not at any point trained in science, and it shows. For instance, the (brief) discussion about bottle formats is horrible. He repeats the completely unjustified "the ratio of headspace to volume is lower in bigger bottles" schtick, which could make sense if it were true, but even a cursory inspection of various formats available at a beer store will show that it's probably not! Second, if the point of aging is controlled oxidation, why the hell does limiting the amount of oxidation matter? It should be functionally irrelevant if you're controlling the pace of the reactions, unless the amount is drastically different and the ratio of volumes is just not going to be more than a factor of two or so off, which shouldn't make a huge difference in rates. Especially since molecular oxygen doesn't oxidize anything, a fact that he doesn't ever mention, though his use of the term "reactive oxidation species" implies it if you already know it, if you don't it won't be meaningful. And, frankly, that's a concise demonstration of my biggest problem with the book, the jargon just doesn't add to understanding, it's either neutral or inhibits it.

    Another example is his justification for higher alcohol being necessary for aging, which is basically "it slows down some reactions". But he doesn't say which ones or why or, frankly, why that matters. My impression had always been that lower ABV beers tend to age less well just because there's less "stuff" in there to age, so the flavors develop more "quickly" in that they're perceptible sooner and fade faster. It's not actually related to the ethanol except that they tend to correlate. Or, to relate it to a metaphor he uses a lot about cooking meat "low and slow" (another thing I'm ambivalent about, since these are pretty different processes), higher ABV beers are more forgiving because they have more stuff going on. Similarly, it's a lot easier to cook a pork butt than a brisket, it's a more forgiving cut of meat. I've had an amazing 25-year-old Duvel from Kulminator, but if I tried to replicate it myself (unless I used my beer fridge) it probably wouldn't work because my cellar isn't perfect. Those two things had been my understanding. If the thing about ethanol is true it would be interesting, but there's nothing in the text that explains it other than in a hand-waving way, which is deeply unsatisfying.

    Finally, he mentions the classic "IPAs were hopped to survive the trip to India", which at this point I'm not totally sure if it's a myth or not but shouldn't be in a goddamn book either way.

    If anyone wants me to I could do a full review after I finish it I can, but I don't think it'll change very much. I had really high hopes for this book that have been mostly busted. It's especially frustrated since I just finished reading Proof: The Science of Booze which was an incredibly informative book*. Maybe that gave me unrealistic expectations for Vintage Beer, because Proof was clearly researched and written over a very long period of time, while Vintage Beer seems more like "this magazine feature was well received, let's extend it into a book". But, IMO at least, the book on aging beer has not been written (or at least it's not this one). If you're someone who's been aging beer a while and are pretty savvy, you will probably learn a thing or two. But I m deeply ambivalent about recommending this book for a neophyte, since while it has a lot of good information, it also seems to have a lot of bad information.



    *This is an aside, but this book contained one fascinating thing about aging alcoholic drinks that I hadn't read anywhere else, which is that over time ethanol molecules tend to clump together, which lessens the perception of them while you drink. I've really wanted to dig into this, because AFAIK the standard line was that, besides fusels, perception of heat don't go down over time. It would be really interesting if, in fact, it did.
     
  4. matedog

    matedog

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    Well written and thorough feedback. I wish I had more of a science background to dive into this, so it actually sounds like the book would be about as surface level as I could get without some serious reading.

    The last bit, I thought the "heat subsides over time" was about as common as the IPA myth that you mentioned earlier. I didn't put much faith into it, but I've heard it a lot. It would be interesting if that was scientifically true.
     
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  5. stupac2

    stupac2

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    I mostly see people ridiculing the idea on here. I actually read that not long after a few people on here were mocking the idea that the new Rare would mellow with time. It was interesting, and I really wanted to dive into it more, but the book doesn't have footnotes (just a bibliography). Maybe I'll e-mail the author and ask about it.

    I was going to try to link the passage (I highlighted in on my kindle) but Amazon's app is being a buttface and I can't log in. Maybe when I get home.
     
  6. duketheredeemer

    duketheredeemer

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    Given that water, which interacts with itself in a way that's qualitatively similar to ethanol, forms and breaks its local bonds with its neighbors something on the order of 10^15 times per second, I find it unlikely that liquid ethanol has a considerably different structure after being allowed to sit over a timescale of years.

    That said, I suppose it could be binding to something or metabolized in some way, or whatever, but that would still make the explanation incomplete at best. In other words, citation needed.
     
  7. stupac2

    stupac2

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    Finally got the stupid Amazon kindle program working, wouldn't sign me in when I tried before. Here's the text:
    There's a bibliography, but it's not organized at all so I have no idea where to look for it. I could try to contact the author to see what he has to say about it, could be bullshit.
     
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  8. duketheredeemer

    duketheredeemer

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    That'd be cool if you do.

    It sounds like he's talking about micelles. I suppose Ethanol has a more polar end and a less polar end, but it's such a short chain that the OH moiety pretty well makes it polar all over, and ethanol's overall dipole moment is much more like water's than a similarly-sized alkane. I'd be surprised if the energies that would bind ethanol micelles together were high enough to avoid being pretty well thermalized at room temperature. I could be wrong, though, so I'd be pretty curious to see what the reference is and what it has to say.
     
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  9. stupac2

    stupac2

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    I'll try to figure out how to shoot him an e-mail. But damn you for only replying to this near my bedtime!
     
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  10. ASak10

    ASak10

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    [​IMG]
     
  11. stupac2

    stupac2

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    Heard back, looks like the statement mostly came from this paper by Mosedale and Puech, and there's another one dealing with it here. I haven't looked these over yet, and they're probably over my head anyway, but there you go.
     
  12. duketheredeemer

    duketheredeemer

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    I'll take a peek and see what it says, thanks!
     
  13. Death Valley

    Death Valley

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    One point that I have not read in this thread is to always try the beer fresh before aging/cellaring. How would you ever know if the beer has changed for the better or worse if you don't try it first. There must be a basis of comparison.

    Perhaps this all goes without saying, I'm sure someone will correct me if I am out of line here.