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Why I’m Done Cellaring Beer

Bourbon County Brand Stout
Mike Zoller
Avg. Reading Time: 3 min

It’s uncommon to get Jester King Brewery beer here in Chicago. When a bottle shop got a rare shipment in last year, I jumped on the opportunity and bought three bottles. I got the bottles home and instead of getting them chilled to drink, I put them away in my “cellar.” Well, I’m done with that.

My New Beers Resolution is to quit cellaring beers and holding onto them for years. It’s become a silly obsession and it’s begun to ruin beer for me. Those Jester King beers I was so excited to get; when I opened one up about 18 months later it was no good. This wasn’t the brewery’s fault, it was my own. I was so excited to get the beer, why didn’t I drink it sooner?

While there are a handful of beers that are designed to be aged, and typically the bottle states that, these Jester King beers had no label. The brewer wanted me to drink them now, but instead I thought that by putting them away I could improve how the beer tasted or change the flavor profile. 

(More: Why I Stopped Rating Beers on Untappd)

If a Michelin-star chef put his signature dish in front of you would you add additional condiments to change the flavor? Of course not – you want to try the dish as this expert has created it.

Beer is no different.

A brewer is much more knowledgeable about creating beer than me. What they produce in the bottle is their interpretation on the finished product they want their customers to enjoy. By aging and cellaring the beer you’ve changed the product and the vision that brewer had.

And while many people gravitate toward aging big barrel aged gems or wild sours to allow the beer to mature and come into its own, the truth is that those beers are ready when the brewer decided to release that beer.

Craft beer drinkers go on elaborate quests to get these rare bottles and decide to try aging it instead of enjoying the beer. They are hoping to change that flavor profile the brewer has worked so hard to create. That’s not going to be me anymore.

So now as I go through my little “cellar” of beer I’m sorting through old bottles of Bourbon County Stouts, Big Hugs and Dino S’mores and making sure when I get a bottle, I drink it or bring it to a bottle share within a few months. Sure, I won’t have verticals anymore, but that loss isn’t going to stop my resolution this year.

(More: Signs You’re A Little Too Into Craft Beer)

Being in Chicago I’m lucky to be around so many craft beer events. I have access to verticals and old beers several times a year. Do you know how many times I could have had 2014 Bourbon County Prop? At least three.

I’ll let someone else be responsible for properly aging and storing beer. With so many breweries having issues with their beer I don’t want to sit on a beer for a couple of years only to open it and realize it’s no good. What a waste.

The funny thing is, that as I’ve told people about my resolution they agree with me and want to do the same thing too. Are more people thinking the same thing and we just assume that when we get these bottles we have to age them because that’s what you do?

(Read: An Update—Why I’m Done Cellaring Beer)

Is the lure of holding onto bottles simply to trade or sell them in a few years when their value has hopefully increased? After looking through the many beer Facebook groups I’m a part of that’s what it seems like.

There’s so much great craft beer being produced right now. You’ll never be at a loss to find a great stout or new juicy IPA to crack open. While I know some reading this will think I’m wrong and will continue to cellar their beer, I hope that there’s more opening of bottles and less of closing the cellar door on them.


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Comments

  1. Great resolution. I’m looking to do the same.

    My cellar is filled with hundreds of bottles that are likely past their prime. +5 year old barleywines, imperial stout, and others that have become oxidized and are shells of their former greatness.

    It’s sad to turn great beer bad and waste all that money in the process. Time to enjoy beers the way brewers intended them, instead of aging them to death.

    • Brian

      What if the brewery intends them to be aged to death? Perhaps you should understand the individual breweries intentions rather than simply thinking they should all be drank right away.

      • Mike Zoller

        Agree 100%. I mention that in the article. Some beers are designed to be aged and typically it indicates that on the label.

      • Charlie

        Good reading comprehension!

    • Doccannon

      I only cellar a beer when I have more than one. Why cellar 3 bottles ? Drink one now drink one later and cellar one but, and this is the real problem, drink your cellared beers in a timely fashion . Keep it small, and don’t hold on to those beers like it was made of gold . That is the part I don’t get. Drink your cellared beer, don’t put too much value in a two year old bottle, get you some friends and drink that shit!

  2. I feel better about my similar decision.
    Drink up me hardies !!!

  3. Agree with you on the verticals, those are just too much work and rarely work out the way you’d expect. However some beer ages fantastically, you just need to try it fresh to see if you think it’s worth aging a bit.

  4. Nick Floyd

    I’ve decided that I’m only going to age IPAs from now on. Nobody actually enjoys anything bitter anyways, when was the last time you went to a bar and requested ‘your most bitter beer available?’

  5. The proper way to cellar a beer is to purchase multiple bottles, open one relatively soon, then decide you would like the beer better after it’s been cellared, and stow the rest away. If you have a bottle fresh, it already tastes amazing, and tastes like it won’t improve with aging, then don’t age it.

  6. Good decision Fresh Beer is Better BEer!

  7. Ogi the Yogi

    A couple of things. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the article but it raises a number of things that concern me. Cellaring especially cellaring in 2016 has become much more about “collecting” than actually about the process of ageing the beer, to see how it changes, develops flavor and matures. There are several very disturbing issues brought to the forefront by this article. One of the main concerns is summarized by this line “Is the lure of holding onto bottles simply to trade or sell them in a few years when their value has hopefully increased?” Cellaring has become synonymous with selling. Another aspect of cellaring that’s off putting is collecting itself, when I look at my beers I can’t help to ask when did I start seeing them as a collection, and honestly I don’t like that perspective. It feeds into the worst parts of my character, and it often creates for others as well a check list mentality. My last point is about the ever-changing demands of the market, which we all must keep in mind. Collections fluctuate in value based on trends and demand, most accurately reflected by the ever changing “top 100” lists. This realization hopefully can show people that they can choose what the want to drink over what they are told they should be drinking. This last point often plays a huge role in what people choose to “age”.

  8. Kevin

    I would agree that beer is made to be drank and no one knows more about it or how it should be treated than the brewer, but I think it’s silly to stop aging beers because the brewer bottles/cans them at the point they want them to taste. Aging beer is not about improving the taste, its about changing the taste to see how the beer will develop and change over time, what flavors fade away and what flavors come to the forefront that were previously just an afterthought. It was not smart to cellar a beer without first trying it at all. Why did you wait 18 months to first try it? I find that most beers have a noticeable change in flavor after every 6 months of aging. Personally, I never try to age a beer that I’ve never had before because I would then have no idea as to how long to age it (The exception to this is with barleywines, which i find myself not able to enjoy much while fresh, but greatly after they have had some time to sit and mellow out, but even then I must at least try a sample before I feel confident to age it for any extended period of time). I age my beers with a goal in mind, a change that I desire to see in the beer that will take time to come out, and since I’ve been at this for a while I almost have a decent idea of what to look for and expect. I really enjoy doing vertical tastings and even though some of the beers will have gone bad, it’s still a learning experience each time and it showcases more than just the effect of time on beer or the differences from one batch to another. For those of whom are still interested in aging beer, check out this great book called “Vintage Beer: A Taster’s Guide to Brews That Improve over Time” (I got my copy off of amazon). I found this book to be quite informative and it really helped me expand my knowledge of aging beer. Cheers!

  9. Mike Medina

    Mike-
    Looking to get an epic bottle share going at this years GABF. Got any ideas as to how to spread the word?

  10. I can agree it’s extremely important to have a balance and it can be hard for some, drink in moderation and responsibly is key.

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