Coopers Vintage Ale 2016

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disclaimer: I was sent the current release Vintage Ale by Coopers

If you’ve been reading for a while (as in … years) you’ll know that I’ve been incredibly lucky to be a guest at quite a few consecutive Coopers Vintage Ale launch lunches. Unfortunately, this year I had a forced hiatus. The lunch was held within 48 hours of a big work deadline. I had no choice but to decline. I knew that if I rsvped ‘yes’ come lunch day I’d be a wreck – torn between honouring that rsvp and the fact that I had so much work to do. I also knew that if I rsvped ‘no’ I would have wrapped up the work and be kicking myself.

Real life was actually somewhere between the two – but luckily for me team Coopers sent me some of the Vintage Ale to sample. Hard life.

So – here we are in the run up to Father’s Day. Yep – if you forgot – it’s Sunday. Eek. And if the dads in your life like beer – well, you can read my review of the Vintage Ale and see if it sounds like your dad’s thing.

If it’s not your dad’s thing, then this might be. Dr Tim Cooper, Managing Director and Chief Brewer, has turned 60 and, to celebrate, Coopers has released a limited run of Dr Tim’s Traditional Ale in 440mL cans – at the same price as the usual 375mL cans.

OK – on to how the 2016 vintage ale is looking!

The Vintage Ale

The beer is amber and really quite dense in colour. The bottle fermentation means that like Coopers’ other bottle-conditioned ales, there is sediment. If you prefer it distributed through the beer, it won’t be crystal clear in appearance.

The nose isn’t particularly strong – think subtle hoppiness and citrus. But in the mouth it’s a lot more forward. The extra alcohol (the beer is 7.5% abv) gives it extra weight and it has a lovely creaminess about it. If you’re a stout drinker, you’ll recognise the mouthfeel.

It’s fruity and citrussy but it has a lovely bitterness to it. In order to produce a beer that can age Coopers has to tread a fine line with the hops. If you like that kind of hoppy bitterness in a beer, then you will like the Vintage Ale but I definitely recommend you drink it young. Over time, those hops back off and the beer ends up seeming sweeter.

I’ve been privileged enough to try enough back vintages of Coopers Vintage Ale to know that I like them young. To me, the 2016 is almost like drinking a lighter bodied and flavoured stout. It’s very approachable and (I think – I like hoppy beer) delicious.

So if you do buy the dad in your life some – just make sure he shares it!

Coopers Vintage Ale Launch and Father’s Day Ideas

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Disclaimer: I was a guest at the launch lunch

One of my favourite events, and one I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to several years running, is the launch of Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale. The Coopers team (including the people at Corporate Conversation) might have been doing this for a few years, but every year they mix things up a bit and the lucky guests get some great insight into one of Australia’s most unique beers.

This year, lunch was held at Pirie and Co Social Club. As we were lunching downstairs there was no natural light and so my photos are worse than usual – but hopefully you can bear with me (and understand why I put a media image at the top of this post!).

 

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Coopers Clear poached chicken, with confit tomatoes, beetroot jelly, grilled asparagus, goats curd & bitter leaves

We started with drinks at the bar (of course) and followed that with a beer themed lunch. A chicken tenderloin poached in Coopers Clear was followed by an excellent blood orange sorbet served with a drizzle of Coopers Light. For me to say that is really something because I am not a big fan of orange at all. Our main was (an enormous) Wagyu scotch fillet with carrots and potatoes and a jus based on Coopers Sparkling and we wrapped up with a chocolate tart with honey mascarpone and served with a Coopers Stout wafer. This last is an excellent idea – Stout has such rich chocolate and caramel overtones that it works perfectly with desserts and incorporating it into a wafer is a great way of maximising that richness without concentrating any of its bitterness.

Our lunch was served with the 2015 and 2010 Vintage Ales side by side. David Medlyn, Technical Brewer at Coopers, took us through the tasting. Even the untrained eye could spot that the 2010 had darkened with age and the bitterness of the hops drops away over time, leaving a beer which is a lot more mellow and showing off Christmas cake and caramel.

Each year, the team at Coopers messes with the Vintage Ale mix so every year is slightly different, although the beer is always 7.5% abv. It needs that extra alcohol to help it age! The easiest way for the team to change the recipe is to change the hops that are used. This year, it’s Ella, Vic Secret and Melba. The Melba is a new hop which was developed for the Vintage Ale. The younger beer certainly showed of its hops – very crisp and refreshing and even though you will notice the high alcohol, it’s not overwhelming.

Of course, the Vintage Ale is not cheap. It’s a beer produced in limited quantities and in many quarters it has something of a cult following. But … if you’re still seeking a Father’s Day present (that’s this Sunday for anyone in Australia!) then keep your eye out for the cleverly put together Father’s Day Six Pack. Your father will get two bottles each of the 2015 Vintage Ale, the Celebration Ale and the Artisan Reserve and this will set you back around $25 and you’ll find them at independent retailers.

Pretty much everyone I know has their standard go-to Coopers beers (Andy’s is the Lager, my dad’s is the Stout and my uncle’s is Coopers Clear, I’m the flighty exception) so this is a great way to experience a beer you might not have tried before without committing to a six pack or case.

Coopers Vintage Ale Launch 2014

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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Coopers at the lunch.

If you’re South Australian you’ll know that every winter Coopers launches its Extra Strong Vintage Ale. This is a beer that’s produced to age and every year Coopers’ head brewer, Dr Jon Meneses, plays around with the formula so no two years are the same.

Of course, any new product is always launched with fanfare and each year Coopers hosts a big wintery beer themed lunch to wet the new baby’s head. I’ve been lucky enough to go along the last couple of years and the lunch is always a generous treat, with the dishes matched to the current and back vintages of the beer.

This year, lunch was held at the Edinburgh Hotel in the Pavilion – a large room with floor to ceiling windows which overlooks the verandah and garden. Even though it was a pretty miserable day the room looked amazing: light filled, warm and inviting.

We started with five spice duck spring rolls served with a Pale Ale and lemongrass dipping sauce – and a Celebration Ale, of course. This was a lovely canapé but gave us no idea of what was to come.

Our first glimpse of the full menu came when we sat down. It was a hearty menu and each of the courses made use of a Coopers beer. We also had a tasting mat set out for our beers – this year comparing the current release with the 2012 and 2010 vintages.

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We started with the new release 2014 Vintage Ale, paired with a huge bowl of Sparkling Ale seafood chowder. This was served with the most enormous chunks of bread I have ever seen (and given how much bread I eat, that is saying something!). The seafood chowder was incredible: tons of seafood (South Australian Spencer Gulf prawns, Kinkawooka mussels and squid), a rich, thick chowder and plenty of black pepper. It was no surprise that, at the end of the meal, the Ed’s chef said they were considering making it a permanent fixture on the menu.

A slight pause, a palate cleanser of pear sorbet served with a shot of Celebration Ale and then we were headlong into the main course. A huge (beef and Vintage Ale, of course!) pie with plenty of sides. The pie was lovely: the beef was soft and tender and the caramelised shallots added both sweetness and the most subtle crunch. I managed to polish off the pie but I was economical with my choice of sides … opting for just some broccolini and asparagus.

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By this point, I’d realised it was extremely important to save some space for dessert. No beer this time – just an amazing Haigh’s chocolate tart.

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Oh, but wait … I’m supposed to be talking about the beer! The 2014 differs from previous years in that this year Dr Meneses has upped the hops content to create a more bitter beer. The bitterness drops off with age and, as more people are keeping their Vintage Ales longer, the balance between bitterness and the fruit sweetness changes. That lack of bitterness is why the older vintages start to appear almost sherry like. Of course, the team at Coopers does have to produce a beer which is also drinkable NOW (not everyone is patient …). As someone who really likes more bitter beers anyway, I found the 2014 really enjoyable. In the short term the hoppy character balances out the alcohol and keeps the beer refreshing and I think it will be really interesting to see how this beer ages. It is very drinkable now so I wonder how many people will have some left in future years?

I’ve been lucky enough to attend three Coopers Vintage Ale lunches now and the 2014 has set the bar very high. The lunch was amazing but this year’s Vintage Ale is also pretty special too.

The Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale is available now for around $75 a carton.  Quantities are limited.