In September, we visited Russian River Brewing Co.’s brewpub in Santa Rosa, California and learned that sales from the small bottle shop located in the front of the restaurant match the sales of the entire brewpub every day. While a good portion of those bottle sales—more than half, according to the manager we chatted with—are due to Russian River’s famed double IPA, Pliny the Elder, a sizable chunk can also be attributed to the brewery’s wild- and wine-fermented sour ales: Temptation, Consecration and Supplication.
Which means, presumably, that there are a lot of bottles of these beers aging in the basements, closets and wine fridges of dedicated beer nerds (there certainly are several in the Draft cellar). But how long should these bottles remain in slumber? What’s the aging sweet spot? Only one way to find out.
Supplication is a brown ale aged for about a year with sour cherries and a bevy of wild bacteria in pinot noir barrels procured from Sonoma County wineries. Batch 008 (Russian River switched from batch numbering to date codes in 2012) was brewed April 20, 2010 and bottled November 14, 2011. We opened it on its fifth birthday.
Like a teenager finally leaving puberty, age has cleared this beer’s complexion: The burning cherry liquid has near-perfect clarity and zero head. Beautiful sweet cherry tones arise in the jammy, winelike aroma and are soon met with vanilla bean, black currant and a dash of deeper balsamic and savory steak sauce. Notes of cola—brown sugar and dark fruits—add sweetness that makes this nose as balanced as it was when fresh. The flavor, however, seems to have lost a little something. While touches of green apple and even a little custard seem to have developed amid the existing deep tart cherry notes and bright wine character, the sip isn’t quite as vibrant as it once was, and seems muddled. The acidity has taken on a harsher, oakier character, with more lingering lemony bite and not as much depth.
Our opinion: Five years is a little too long for this one. While certain new flavors have developed courtesy of the bottled yeast and bacteria, they’re not all enjoyable—we’re seeing the beginnings of yeast autolysis and its meaty contributions. A limit of three years on our other cellared bottles seems in order.