Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers 2009 and 2011 vintages. It's been a while since I sipped on this nectar of a beer, but it is a memorable favorite. I even wrote an homage to it back a few years ago.
Except for the year on the neck of the bottle, the labels are identical. 98% ale plus 2% Kriek blended. Both 9.8% alcohol. Serve at 50 degrees F.
I tasted both vintages side-by-side after an extensive two-tweet search to see if that would be the best way to approach this tasting. Kevin from The Foaming Head blog jumped in immediately with some first hand experience and recommendations from tasting multiple vintages of this beer. Check out this lineup of Three Philosophers--actually looks like Plato and Aristotle blabbed about the tasting on their Facebook pages and ended up with some of their understudies there! Socrates must have been pissed to see Seven Philosophers!
When I opened the bottles, the first thing I noticed was a bigger pop from the 2011 bottle. After I poured both, it was apparent that the 2009 version had lost some of its bubbly and, at least visually, was a little flatter. The aromas were very similar, indistinguishable. Tart cherries bathing in a boozy sweet bath of caramel and fig newton puree. Yeah! I know. Hard to believe right? Try it.
The second major difference was how the 9.8% alcohol played out. In the 2009 bottle, it was subdued and incorporated, and while providing chest warmth, not really a huge contributor. In my 2011 bottle, however, it provided a litle burn and really helped balance the sweet flavors of the beer. I missed the bite in the 2009 bottle. The yeast was noticeable in both. And the brandy and rum-soaked fruit flavors played major roles in each bottle.
In the end, I preferred the newer bottle. I liked the bigger carbonation, the freshness, the amped up cherry tartness and the alcohol bite from 2011. I realize that some of those components are the reason why bottles are aged in the first place. But for this particular beer, smoothing out the awesome fresh version was not a positive. Perhaps 5 or 6 years of age is the perfect time, but I doubt it since I can imagine the progression.