Let's Drink a 13-Year-Old Beer

Ben Sammis, April 28, 2015

When I originally thought of writing about this beer almost a year ago, the piece would have been called "The Beer I'll Never Drink" because I honestly thought I'd never crack the bottle on the left in the header image open. I thought I'd save it as a collectible conversation piece instead.

The backstory: I can find no legitimate sources to back this up, merely internet discussion forum posts and whatnot, but they all agree with the story as I heard it, as a Dogfish distributor rep, in 2004 or thereabouts. Apparently, the initial (2001) release of World Wide Stout had an ATF approved label that included the words "Vim & Vigor". Since the label was already approved, they re-used it for the 2002 release. Lo and behold, the ATF rejected it, claiming that those words implied that the (23% ABV) beer contained therein bestowed health benefits upon the drinker. Of course this happened after the beer was bottled and ready to ship, which is why the words are blacked out with a Sharpie in the above photo. Some poor group of Dogfish employees had to sit and mark up the labels of however many cases of WWS were produced in 2002. On the plus side, the vintage of this beer is unquestionable, though I knew that anyway because I bought it off the shelf in 2002.

That bottle has been with me through many iterations of a once magnificent beer cellar, at times being the sole resident thereof. When we finally bought a house several years ago, it moved into the liquor cabinet presumably never to be seen again. I was reminded of it when a post on a beer trade forum requested that specific vintage in exchange for a truly preposterous return of newer, larger barrel aged stouts. I replied in the affirmative and was summarily ignored, but it did whet my whistle, and I had semi recently come across a bottle of the 2013 vintage, so here we are. Luckily I had friends to help me drink them, because the thought of drinking 24 oz of 18+ ABV beer in a single night is less appealing to me now than it was in 2002. 

So, what does a pubescent beer look, smell, and taste like?

The cap made a satisfyingly loud pop when opened, and the aroma of booze and chocolate was immediately apparent. As you can see, the beer poured jet black with absolutely no head. Holding it up to the light revealed a deep brown edge that faded to garnet at the junction of beer and glass. Overall a quite pleasing appearance.

Once poured, the aromatic alcohol punch faded immediately, along with the chocolate, replaced by an enticing blend of toffee, maraschino cherry, and a hint of smoke. I suspect that some of the alcohol had evaporated into the headspace of the bottle and taken the chocolate with it. Maybe the bottle we drank last weekend was only 20% ABV. After blast that accompanied the opening of the bottle, I was expecting something much less attractive than the aroma the beer presented once poured.  

The mouthfeel was liquid silk. Seriously. I've never consumed another beverage in my life that felt quite like this. The closest comparison might be mango or apricot nectar, but without the almost oily coating those leave behind. This went in, gently massaged the interior of my mouth, and passed through. Sort of like the Litany Against Fear. Shit, I should have framed this entire post around the Litany. Oh well, there's laundry to fold, sick kids to tend to, and beer to package for shipping, so it's too late now.

Taste: Out of this world. If I'd been given this blind and told it was bourbon or cognac barrel aged, I'd have believed it without question. This was just layered with toffee, caramel, myriad dark fruits, and a slight nuttiness. Roasted almond maybe. And as the mouthfeel comments indicated, smooth as hell without a hint of alcohol heat. Truly amazing. It had more in common flavor-wise with a cognac liqueur than a beer. I kind of wish I'd kept it all for myself, but it's not like I could stopper it and save half of it, and fuck it, beer is for sharing.

The 2013 vintage was quite good, but couldn't hold a candle to its elder sibling. It poured and smelled like a traditional imperial stout, with a tan head that faded relatively quickly leaving a bit of lacing and an aroma of roast barley and coffee. Tasted like it smelled, with a hint of chocolate backing up the coffee and roast. The one thing it had in common with the 2002 was the utter absence of alcohol on the palate, which in itself is quite an achievement given that this version clocks in at 18% ABV.

I've been cellaring and vertically tasting beers for over 15 years now, and I've never experienced anything like this. The closest was probably a 10 year vertical of Bell's Expedition Stout, and that underwent nothing close to the evolution WWS did. In summary, buy Dogfish Head World Wide Stout whenever you get the chance, but don't drink it for 10 years or so. Tall order, I know, but those ten years transform it from merely good to utterly magical.