Expedition Stout 2015 | Bell's Brewery

From a 355ml bottle served warm at 15 degrees Celsius into a TeKu glass. No date information on the bottle but at the brewery's retail outlet it was listed as the 2015 vintage - making it more than 4 yrs old... maybe closer to 4.5 years. I picked up the bottle straight from Bell's during my trip to Grand Rapids about three months ago. I was very enthusiastic to see a brewery release of such an old vintage right at the bottle shop for just a handful of dollars. I'm not really sure what to expect because of the age - I'm very curious however after having had the 2019 earlier today.

Appearance

The beer pours a clear black with 0.5cm of frothy, deep tan head which doesn't stick around for long. Poor lacing and head retention. The looks have certainly faded.


Aroma

Medium-strong intensity with good balance. The aroma is rich and complex with a charismatic aged feature. The base recipe comes through slightly more nuanced, but it's there with its charred wood, burnt sugar, black licorice, and mild dark fruit. The hops have faded and by becoming less distinct, they've been replaced with an elaborate aged character reminiscent of sherry, leather, paper, and some meaty character (soy sauce). An additional cocoa powder note has become more apparent compared to the 2019 sample. The dry nose is malty and sweet with notes of brown sugar and oxidized bier. Tremendous complexity and balance.


Flavour

Follows the aroma with strong intensity, bitter balance, and aggressive perceived bitterness. The complex palate opens up with loads of salted black licorice, burnt caramel, and boozy dried fruit making way for an intriguing center where aged notes of leather, sherry, and mild soy sauce shack up with cocoa powder, more dark caramel, molasses, and a hint of herbal-woody hops. The long finish is strong and balanced with notes of 100% cocoa, roasted barley, molasses, mild dark fruit, leather, paper (T2N), and a trace of hops that once were. Impressive.


Mouthfeel

Full body with medium-low carbonation. The mouthfeel is creamy-smooth, slightly oily, and mouth-coating with restrained alcohol warming and an off-dry finish. Mild astringency on the palate with no actual harshness.


Overall

Bell's Brewery's Expedition Stout 2015 is a world class example of an aged beer done right. The appearance has certainly faded over the years, but what is lost in the exterior is more than made up for on the inside. The overall flavour is not deep, but profound. I'm amazed how well this has aged. I frequently consume beers that are 6-12 months of age and are clearly past their prime - leaving me craving for a fresh sample. This is not the case with Bell's Expedition. There are no metallic off-notes and the papery character is minimal. The autolysis - if there really is much - is only contributing a rich, umami sort of character which works very well with the base beer. The mouthfeel, oh the mouthfeel you've retained a buttload of viscosity, losing some carbonation, and finishing drier. Yet, there's more apparent sweetness in the flavour profile. Thankfully, it's just straight up fascinating flavours and it all comes together in a neat, sippable package. I love it. My compliments to Bell's for doing something that most breweries haven't figured out how to do.

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