Cellaring 102: Three Beers You Can Drink Now and Save for Later
I only bought Blood of the Unicorn because it looks like a dead horse album cover.
Photos by Joshua Justice
The last time we talked aging beer, we looked at basic do's and don't's of storing your beer. Simple stuff, right? Now that you know where you are going to put all that beer, it's time to go shopping.
With beer aisles now holding hundreds of choices, it's hard enough to find one to have during the game, much less a beer worth holding onto for a while. Here's a quick rundown of our top three picks for beers to age right now.
Remember: Multi-bottle packs are your friend. When you're first starting to age beers, big 22-ounce and bomber-sized bottles are a sucker's bet. Sure, big-format bottles look sexy with their fancy labels. And -- truth be told -- a lot of breweries' limited-edition and seasonal beers only come in those large-format bottles. Packs of smaller 12-ounce bottles, however, offer lots of advantages over their larger counterparts.
First, contrary to most grocery store buys, the smaller, multi-pack beer is often cheaper per ounce than large-format bottles of the exact same product. It's largely a marketing glitch that exploits the beer nerds among us who lust after these large-format beers. But trust me -- I've done the math -- six-packs are the value proposition a good portion of the time.
Additionally, buying multiples of the same beer offers you something buying a single bomber bottle does not: the ability to taste test your beer along the way. Unless you have already tried a particular beer, how will you know -- two years down the road -- if you are happy with the results of the aged beer? By buying several, you can try the beer now and also check in on it at various intervals along the way. Not only do you truly get to experience how the beer changes as time goes on, you will have a better chance of drinking the beer when you are truly happy with its flavor.
One final advantage of multi-packs is that you won't feel bad sharing. Sometimes it's hard to part with a bottle you've been holding onto for three years. When you have several, it's much easier to bring a bottle to a friend's house or out to a bottle share -- which is really the whole reason you age beer in the first place: to be the guy who brings the great beer. Everyone loves that guy. Besides, who wants to go to the liquor store and come home with stuff you can't open and drink? One for you, the rest for the cellar.
12-ounce bottle picks:
Burton Baton, an oak-aged IPA
Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Available in four-packs at a pricey $15, this beer lives up to its hype as one of the best beers on the planet. And like most Dogfish beers, it grows better with age. The downside: You may like it so much fresh, the four bottles may be gone before you know it.
Suggested age: 12 to 24 months. I've had this beer as old as four years past its bottling date, but the beer hits its sweet spot at some point after a year.
Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 1
Sold only in bars and restaurants, don't be fooled into thinking this beer is gone. Savvy bar managers across the city are sitting on this beer, waiting for just the right moment to release more. This whiskey barrel-aged stout is great fresh, but it's going to be outstanding down the road. If you want to take it home, be sure to go to a bar that serves beer only -- such as Petrol Station, Guru Burgers or The Hay Merchant -- as they are the only ones who can legally let you take the beer home.
Suggested Age: 18 to 24 Months. This one will probably hold together well into the four- to five-year range, but a year and a half will give you a good idea of how the big bourbon flavors from the Woodford Reserve barrels are going to shake out and settle down.
2011's version of Sisyphus Barleywine
Real Ale Sisyphus
A beginner's barleywine of sorts, this beer doesn't pack the distinct booze and molasses wallop that my girlfriend finds undrinkable in bigger barleywines like Avery Hog Heaven. As an added bonus, it's very easy to find sold as singles or in four-packs at beer sellers throughout the city, making it easy to build a vertical collection (the same beer from different years). It's also numbered and labeled differently each year, so it's easy to tell which version you have.
Suggested Age: 36 to 48 Months. Sisyphus is great for trying at every stage of its maturation. It is at its best a little after three years. Find a 2012 bottle now and pick more up in subsequent years. Open them all at once when you find a 2015 Sisyphus.
These are certainly not your only choices next time you head out to pick up beer, but they are all great beers to start off with. Happy hunting!
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