3 February 2018

Get in the Cellar

A present to myself from my beer cellar
  Ever look on in amazement when someone posts a series of beers from 5 years worth of releases or more that they've held onto for a special occasion? A vertical for the ages takes a huge amount of patience, a little luck and the ability to delay gratification that most of us do not possess. I look on in wonder as a friend takes a snap of a decades worth of beer, carefully stored and lovingly shared amongst their nearest and dearest. How do they do it and should you join in the fun that is cellaring your beer? I should think so, although I do so with a few caveats that work for me. Take these as you will, I am no expert but I've learned a few things along the way.

1. Temperature Matters
  One mistake we make is moving beer from the fridge to the counter to the cellar and back again. Early on I was given probably the best piece of advice about saving my beer for years, keep it cool. If you have room in the fridge, tuck it in the back and leave it the hell alone. No need to move it, agitate or disturb the aging brew. Just keep it consistent, if left in an actual cellar, leave it there until you want to drink it and then move it when ready. Try to keep it in the low temps though, no need to speed up the aging process with warm, shelf aged beer...leave that for our lovely LCBOs.

2. No Light Man
  If you've followed rule number 1, that beer isn't seeing the light of day until it's going into your glass. We all know the natural enemies of our beer are heat, oxygen and of course the sun, natural or otherwise. Take no chances and keep those beauties in the dark until D-Day.

3. Age Appropriate
  There is little sense in aging a hoppy IPA unless your goal is to create a malt bomb. I recently had an almost year old IPA and it was like drinking a toasty glass of caramel, with little in the way of the hoppy deliciousness I was used to from this particular brew. Same goes for low ABV beers, they don't have the requisite chutzpah to go the distance. Dark beers with an ABV over 7% tend to populate most cellars with stouts, barley wines, farmhouse ales, bretty beasts, bottle conditioned gems and barrel aged anything are the usual suspects, The age tends to mellow out the heat or harsher aspects of the beer in comparison to when it's fresh and that can add a balanced complexity to what your drinking.
Do not age!!
4. Buy 2
  I don't understand just buying one of something I'm aging. How can you even begin to compare the two or understand why you're aging a beer if you don't know what is going on with it when it's released. I haven't come across a beer that was released and you were told not to drink it with the exception of last year's 11.05 from Sawdust City and Nickel Brook. It needed a little more time to can condition and we were told to wait a bit longer to give it time to develop that funk. For the most part, beer is released when it is ready to drink, although with the caveat that it can be cellared for enjoyment and comparison at a later date. For me that's what it is all about, contrast and compare what happens from a year spent aging versus the current release. A prime example was the 2016 versus 2017 Kentucky Bastard Imperial Bourbon Barrel aged Stout from the aforementioned Nickel Brook. While the latest release was delicious and boozy, it's older counterpart had lost some of that heat from the alcohol and melded together to create an amazingly balanced beer. Truly sublime.
A truly sublime experience. 2016 Nickel Brook Kentucky Bastard.
4. Forget about it
  The hardest thing to do is look at a beer, day after day, trying to decide if it's the right time to drink it or not. My friends who aged a lot of beer tell me the secret is to put it out of sight, make it something you don't see and you will let it go from your thoughts. Make your cellar or fridge space where you keep your precious and unique treasures as out of the way as possible. The bottom shelf, back of the fridge works best for me, covered by all my other stuff and tucked away out of my eyeline. Proper rotation is, of course, paramount and should be the only time you engage the shelf or cellar until it is to add stuff or when it is time to drink said treat. Which brings us to the next and last tip...

5. Say When
  As with all things, there must come a time to say enough is enough. While I am dazzled by the collections so many of my friends have built, mine remains relatively modest by comparison. I do not have the patience or fortitude to sit on multiple vertical stashes for years on end. The ability to set it and forget it is lost on me and I have a pretty decent amount of self control for the most part. So for us, saving it for a special occasion means whenever we think it is the right day. While many people are saving a beer for a special occasion, I say that the beer itself makes the day special, even if it's a Wednesday in January and you just want to brighten a dreary winter day. My personal rule of thumb is about a year or until the next annual release of what I have in the cellar. I love comparing the differences the age has made and don't want to sit on a beer forever just because. It can become a form of indecision paralysis when it comes to drinking something from your cellar and that can be quite a problem. Knowing that when this beer is gone, its gone forever can be tough and no one likes to say goodbye. But saving a beer forever means you might never get to try it or in the most terrible of endings, oxidized and become nothing more than an aged drain pour. Try and keep your beers in some sort of order and pull the trigger while you can.

6. Share the Wealth
  There is nothing quite like a child's face on Christmas morning when they get their first look at that tree and all the presents Santa has left for them. That is what a beer lover experiences when you bring out a rare whale to share just because you care. Sharing the wealth of your diligent saving means bringing joy to another person and really that is what beer should be all about. Hoarding and being a  miser doesn't pay homage to the hard work and love you put into saving that beer and what better occasion than a friend visiting, maybe with good news or just some cheese and crackers, to crack open that 2015 Barley wine and making the world a little better. Try organizing a 'Cellar Night' every so often and have everyone bring a few things they would like to share, believe me it can bring joy to a dreary day when you open the door and see a friend with something to open and savour. Your beer karma goes up when you become a beer saint and the universe tends to make things balance out in the end, so be happy and make it a night your friends will be talking about for months to come.
  Finally and most importantly, drink your damn beer. I say it all the time and mean it with all my heart. Life is so very short and while the rewards of a 10 year vertical of Bellwood's Barn Owl cannot be measured, there is no guarantee that either of us will be around to taste them all. I don't want to miss a thing and that includes my cellared beer. The finest things are worth waiting for but if you keep saving everything for a special day, you might just have missed the one you were looking for.  Life is best lived in the present and while I encourage and applaud those of you with the ability to save beer for such a long time, I think I've found my happy medium and can't wait for that random Tuesday in March when I can open something to brighten my day and bring back the memories of beers gone by.



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