Vintage shoot out — Coopers Vintage Ale and Crown Ambassador Lager

There they were at last, side by side on the tasting bench – two beers for the cellar, both made in single batches each year and released in winter; one aimed at beer enthusiasts, and affordable at $20 a 375ml 6-pack; the other seemingly aimed at the hospitality PR machine first, then well-healed collectors, and finally, perhaps, very curious beer enthusiasts prepared to pay $90 a 750ml bottle.

One’s ale, the other’s lager. Both are bottle conditioned. Both are high in alcohol – Cooper’s Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2010 weighing in at 7.5 per cent, about half as strong again as a normal full-strength beer; Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager 2010 hitting a strapping 10.2 per cent – way up there with Belgium’s specialty ales.

Both share a deep-amber colour, the Cooper’s a tad darker, with a mahogany tone. But from there on, each spins off in its own orbit. Cooper’s heading down the banana-fruity end of the ale spectrum; Crown Ambassador where lager seldom treads, but initially defined by distinctive, pungent hops aroma boosted by alcohol.

They’re both complex, substantial beers brewed with bottle ageing in mind. We know Coopers ages well as it’s been around since 1998. Crown looks the goods, but we’ll hold judgement until we see a few oldies.

Cooper’s Extra Strong Vintage Ale 2010 375ml 6-pack $20
Specification – Australian malted barley. Hops: New Zealand Nelson Sauvin, German Magnum and Perle bittering, English Styrian Golding aroma hops. Initial aroma impact is of sweet, banana-like esters. But under that lies a pleasing hoppy note and sweet malt. The opulent, malty palate is cut with spicy hop flavours and a lingering bitterness balancing the malt sweetness.

Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager 2010 750ml $90
Specification – Malt unstated. Hops: fresh picked Galaxy hops from Myrtleford, Victoria. A portion of 2009 vintage, oak-matured for 12 months, added to the brew. Pungent, spicy hops dominates the aroma and persists through the powerful palate — of rich malt, heady alcohol, complex, dried-fruit flavour, and a bite of tannin from the oak.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010