English drinks and food writer Henry Jeffreys has sagely observed that a resolute focus on a top scorer or style is not the only route to finding a gem, that serendipity plays a role if only given the scope, with the pleasure being commensurate. This truth was brought home to me recently when I found an Engineer’s IPA more than half-full, closed with a whiskey cork, behind a group of whiskeys in a drinks cupboard. I had put it there a couple of months before and had completely forgotten. I had consumed part of the bottle, closed it and placed it in an available spot behind a forest of whiskeys, well a grove anyway.
Sometimes I keep bottles in this form for a short time to drink later or use in blending experiments, of which I am a proponent. (It is surprising how blending can cause consternation among even the cognoscenti let alone the non-advised: once after nonchalantly tipping two malts together at a LCBO tasting counter a lady at the other end said, “how interesting, but is that legal?”. I explained that if Scots grocers could do it in the 19th century and thus inadvertently create blended Scotch, one of the most famous drinks in the world for the next 100 years, I could do the same. Somehow she didn’t seem convinced, but thanked me nicely).
And so I fished out this dusty item, and took the cork out, at which there was a loud report. One of the stories of how bottled beer started in England is, a fisherman put some ale in a bottle, went to a stream with his rod, and when he came back realized he had left the bottle on the bank, partly consumed. (Was it Isaak Walton? I need to check this). Some time later he fetched rod and reel and returned to brave his luck on the lazy English river or branch. Lo, he finds the abandoned bottle, still partly full and closed with a rag or something else in the neck, and extracts the closure. He recorded that the bottle had become a “gun”, referring to the build-up of CO2 from the beer working away at a warmish temperature and the cloud of vapour which burst from the neck when the bottle was opened. And he found the beer excellent.
Well that’s exactly what happened to me, the bang was loud just like the angler said, with a puff of steam coming out as from a gun. Despite all the pressure in the bottle, the beer wasn’t that fizzy and was well-rounded, in a word, matured. In the past, I’ve found that opened bottles kept for a time unrefrigerated will often go south but this beer was just fine, better once again than the first sally.