Review #3 – Coopers Vintage Ale (2011)

Looks awful, tastes great

Cooper’s Vintage Ale – Strong English Ale, 7.5% abv., (Regency Park, South Australia). $4/375ml bottle.

To celebrate Australia Day in a slightly more productive way than starting a fight down at the beach or wearing a puke-stained flag like a cape and bleating Oi Oi Oi at passersby, this will be the first of a six-pack of Australian beers I’m testing out over the next week or so. There’s lots of good reasons to start with Coopers – it’s a fiercely independent brewery with what I remember from my misspent youth as the best quality beer in the budget range. Plus most of my homebrew bottles and kits over the years have come from this company. We go back a long way.

The 2011 Vintage Ale – the first was released in 1998 and they vary every year – is a good ‘un. Smallish but resilient creamy white head, it looks…well, awful really. Brown, dark, dirty river water with chunks in it. I’m used to Coopers being cloudy but this is something else. I’d recommend pouring it into a dark glass because everything else works wonderfully. You can smell the alcohol in it at 7.5% but there’s something else – some sort of tropical fruit undertone maybe and perhaps a herbal hoppiness. The taste is rich and malty but certainly not oversweet and there’s a hint of spice – pepper or anise – that leaves a warming sensation with a bitter finish kicking in nicely. The mouthfeel is thinnish (not quite thin) with moderate carbonation. The flavours balance well, especially for something in what you’d still call the affordable range, and it’s designed to be cellared for up to five years (according to the label) for the “intriguing journey of flavour development” to take it’s course. My willpower would give out long before that, but it’s a delicious idea.

For me, it goes perfectly with something else from my youth that’s dirty, swampy and rough around the edges, and at least then was similarly independent in spirit: I’m thinking the Beasts of Bourbon around the time of their second album Sour Mash. Their (in)famous debut The Axeman’s Jazz is probably just a bit too rough – it’s one of those legendary albums that’s actually pretty difficult to listen to, and there’s nothing difficult about the Vintage Ale apart from how it looks. I’d say something like These Are the Good Old Days or Driva Man. The second is a cover of an old Max Roach song that’s worth checking out not just to show how the Beasts put their own stamp on it but also because I think it ties in with what Coopers have done here – the Vintage Ale isn’t really reminiscent of other Strong English Ales (as least, not that I’ve had), it’s very definitely Coopers doing a Strong English Ale, and I, for one, am thankful for it.

Tomorrow: The Fat Yak Pale Ale.

Verdict: A bit rough round the edges but delicious. A lot going on in this one, buy two and stick one of them away for a bit. 65/100.

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