Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stock Check - How to Replenish Your Beer Standbys

My beer cellar is woefully empty.

And by cellar, I mean this guy:
No sex in the champagne room.
I live in a two bedroom apartment - a real cellar would be kinda decadent. But if you're like me, a craft beer fan who's ventured into the realm of craft beer evangelist, you like to have a standby collection for whatever sort of events you have going on. It's sort of like the bringing white wine to a barbecue thing. And for that, these wine fridges are great for starting a modest beer collection no matter what your living situation is. Or, you know, wine. I guess. 

A note of "warning" - some experts will advise against storing anything long-term on its side like this, as prolonged exposure to the cork (or, more likely for the sake of our conversation, bottle cap) can result in "cork-taint" - or, an off-flavor the beer can get from being in contact with the sealing mechanism for a prolonged period of time. I can't argue against that point, but beer collections, unlike wine (which can cross generations and decades), you're unlikely to be aging beer for more than a few years, though some are good for a decade or longer. So, really, it's a fair point, but I've never experienced any flavor issues with storing beer on its side.

But, what it comes down to, is that I needed to go shopping. This sucker is too empty. So, let's talk about the sort of beer that lends itself well to a collection.

Why Bother Having a "Cellar"?

The cellar keeps your beer in its happy place. I keep my wine fridge at "cellar temperature" - probably around 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. That means, depending on the style, you may need to do a quick stint in the freezer before serving, but without exposure to light and a reliably steady temperature, the beer will maintain its integrity for far longer than your fridge or (God forbid) out in the open.

Obviously, you're not going to throw your favorite go-to six-pack in one of these guys - they live alongside, quite happily, alongside the thawing chicken you have in the kitchen fridge. It's more for your special occasion, rare releases, and collectibles. But I also try to keep a few casual favorites in there and some tried-and-true offerings that you know will pair well with whatever you have planned for dinner, but we'll go over that in a bit.

I can't really speak to having a collection for the sake of profit- there are certainly some very rare beers out there that people will be willing to pay a premium for, but I haven't spent much time accruing beer for the sake of selling it. If I obtain a bottle, I intend on drinking it. That said, if you're in the business of beer selling, you're absolutely going to want something to keep your beer in optimal condition.

I have a cellar because it's a dedicated space for my beer. And collecting is really just a fun hobby. So let's get to it.

The Before

As it were, the beer fridge isn't completely empty. Let's take a look at what we have now and why it's there.

The Aging 101 Standby

Aging beer is fun. I already went over some of the intricacies in a previous Ben Likes Beer post, but suffice to say, some aspects of the beer's flavor - such as the quieting of hop character and mellowing of spices, among others - change as they age.

Sierra Nevada's Big Foot is a yearly barleywine release that begs to be aged and is reasonably easy to come by. It's fun to pick up a four pack, drink one or two, and put the others away for a year, as I have done here. Upon release of 2015 (or beyond, if I'm patient enough) comparing the two will be a fun experiment.

If you're impatient, you can sometimes luck out and find older generations in specialty beer shops.

The Cake-and-Eat-It-Toos

Aside from being perfectly age-able, these entries fall into the category of "I really, really want to drink these but as soon as I do they're gonna be gone, so I'm gonna stick them in the fridge and hope they have little beer babies." Basically, I love 120 Minute IPA so much that I only bring it out for special occasions. Or the odd, "What? You haven't had 120 Minute?!" Event, where I then proceed to distribute the 16 oz beer across 20 shot glasses.
The other is Olde School, another uncommon barleywine offering from Dog Fish head that will be a completely different beer if I can give it a year.

Big beers like these will last a long time, and are  harder to come by, so they're sort of trophies. These are ones you're most likely to sell, if you're into that sort of thing. And their alcohol content means they'll remain in good shape for a long, long time. Treasure these. I do.

Seasonal Favorites

These beers represent the later parts of the year, notably Pumpkin Ales and Christmas Ales. Basically, drink through the masses and make notes of your favorites- buy an extra one to have ready and waiting for next Thanksgiving/whatever other holiday you have in mind. The same aging rules apply, of course; don't age a 5% casual pumpkin beer and expect much out of it. The compare the old with the new experiment applies here, too.

This particular one is Almanac Heirloom Barrel Aged Pumpkin. It's on a short list of my favorite pumpkin beers. It's hard not to drink it, but we're saving it for when my mom visits. In August. Whatever.
The Oddballs

Unique and quirky beer that doesn't necessarily fit into any of the aforementioned categories and just seemed like fun additions to the collection and I haven't gotten around to having them yet.

One is Avery's Samael's Oak Aged beer. I picked it up on reputation of Avery's small batches alone, I must admit I know very little about it.

The other is Stone's Enjoy After. A play on their own Enjoy By - a fresh hop IPA that advises you that  drink it before the date on its label, this entry is meant to be aged so that the funky renegade brettanomyces yeast have time to do their thing. Supposedly it's pretty good now, but I'll wait until the label tells me it's go time - Halloween this year.

Shopping List
So, that's an okay collection but there's some glaring omissions that need to be addressed.

To do so, I recommend you find a local specialty shop. You could do ok with a big chain, maybe, but it won't be the beer playground you want for this sort of thing. I'm in Long Beach, CA and discovered Lazy Acres...a phenomenal little market that's like a Whole Foods with approximately a quarter of the pretentiousness...and one helluva beer selection.

I took a quick trip today and filled those said gaps. Let's go over the fresh recruits.

The Belgian

Allow me, once again, to exalt the Belgian Abbey-style beer. Belgian beers are the tried and true work horse of the pairing world. Accordingly, every collection should feature one...or two, or three...

One of my absolute favorites is the Maredsous Tripel. Every bit as delicious as the aforementioned treasures and yet not nearly as rare, Belgian Tripels stand up to even the most formidable of meals without taking over. Have one on standby instead of a bottle of wine with your next steak. Or pork. Or chicken. Or because it's just excellent.

Have a few on standby. Period.

The "Because It's Tuesday"

Just because a beer is in a bottle doesn't mean it's "fancy." Some casual brewery entries don't quite make it to the six-pack format, so be on the look-out for some from your favorite breweries. Sometimes these are one-offs, sometimes not, but they're often fun experiments that are worth trying. Maybe they'll show up again, maybe they won't...but that's the fun of beer collecting.

I bought a Deschutes Hop Henge IPA, a juicy, fruity IPA that doesn't have any right being in my fridge more than a week or two. It's a delicious IPA that goes well with lighter salad fare, seafood and the like. It also goes very well with sitting around and being a lazy bastard.

It's important to have a few casual entries that aren't meant to be aged. Why? Because it's nice to go over to the fridge and be all "Oh man, I forgot I got this!" Because it's a Tuesday. And you deserve something nice.

The Business Casual

On the other side of the coin, casual doesn't need to mean quaffable. Sometimes an affordable option has every bit the right to be at your dinner table as the big Belgians. I present a recent favorite, the Jardinier from The Bruery.

This beer walks a unique line between elegant and approachable. Subtly floral and biscuity, it makes for a great pairing for your elevated Summer fare. Look for big bottles at affordable price points... chances are, if it's large format bottle in a style you wouldn't typically attribute to the style (it's somewhat odd, for example, to see a Pale Ale in a large bottle- though not impossible!), it's likely fair to assume it can be bought and saved for your next casual dinner.

The "Is It Christmas Yet?"
Related to the previously mentioned seasonal stuff. I always like to buy a Christmas beer and age it til next Christmas. If you can snag a bottle outside of the typical Yuletide season, even better- it means someone is doing the waiting for you. Just make the beer is well treated (preferably refrigerated and kept out of sunlight) as to not run into an unpleasant surprise on Christmas Eve.

I grabbed Delirium Noel- a Christmas favorite that I intend on sitting on until Christmastime 2015.

The Heavy
This guy - The Piraat - is a bully. At 10.5%, it's gonna get you buzzed. Which is why I picked one up...
Not to suggest that high alcohol is what makes a good beer. Not at all...but sometimes there is a place for it. Like a party! Strong Goldens like Piraart are tasty and formidable, and make for good sipping (or chugging...I won't judge) in a party setting. I like to have something like this around if we're planning on going to party, in lieu of a bottle of wine or spirits. A tasty buzz that has the benefit of not being wine.

So that's my trip. I have a few spaces left that I can't wait to fill. And that's the fun of beer hunting- heading to the store, saying, "Oh, hey, this sounds good," and putting it in your cart. There are a few standbys, as was mentioned - a Belgian for your steak pairing, some Pales and Saisons for your casual pairings, your couch chugging beers, your social outing beers - but have fun with it. Your beer fridge is a representation of you.

Happy collecting :)