Three Threads

Three Threads by | Apr 2009 | Issue #27

Many people cellar beer, to enjoy it months to years down the road. Even bars and stores cellar offerings to be sold at a later date. Are you for or against aging beer? And why? 

Jeff O’Neil
Executive Brewer, Ithaca Beer Co. (New York)
Honestly, looking at my own stash shows that I’d be a hypocrite coming out against cellaring beer. I’m not, necessarily. Some of both the best and worst beers I’ve tried have had many (sometimes a dozen) years on them. I’ll acquire multiples of the same batch of beer, and bust one out periodically with an eye toward how they are evolving. These tend to be robust, darker brews and Wild/Sour ales (noncoincidentally, beers that can take quite a long time to mature and be packaged). It’s only sometimes a good idea, and one must keep them very carefully, and consider the age and storage conditions of any beer when evaluating it. Not all are sturdy enough, but for better or worse, the changes can almost always be instructive … particularly with beers from smaller brewers, which tend toward low-tech packaging and can be very much alive and dynamic.

Jeff Winn
President & Brewmaster, Yakima Craft Brewing Co. (Washington)
As a general rule, I don’t believe in cellaring beer. I’ve always seen beer as a food, and as a food, it is best enjoyed fresh and—whenever possible—locally. That being said, if you have a very “big” beer that has sufficient gravity and a healthy, hoppy nature that can withstand proper cellar conditions (cool and dark), I don’t see a problem with keeping a couple around. But, do yourself a favor and take the time to compare those you cellar to fresh versions. You’ll probably not do a whole lot of cellaring for your beer as a result.

Garrett Oliver
Brewmaster, Brooklyn Brewery (New York)
I’m all for aging when it’s the right beer and the beer is properly stored. A few years ago, I attended a tasting where the youngest beer was from 1935 and the oldest beer was bottled in 1869 (Bass Ratcliffe Ale). One of the beer labels said that “this beer will taste best after 40 years.” It really shows that people once thought very differently about beer. We intentionally age hundreds of cases of our Brooklyn Monster Ale and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and I’ve always got a special stash going somewhere. Last week, we did a beer dinner at the three-star restaurant Aquavit. We served Monster 2005 with a foie gras ganache and mango sorbet. The ganache had a molten center—it was amazing. And the 2005 worked perfectly, but Monster 2008 would have overwhelmed it. And last night at Gramercy Tavern, I had Gale’s Prize Old Ale 1996 with the best steak tartare I’ve ever had. No wine could have paired so well with that dish. What’s particularly cool is that Gramercy Tavern has a vintage beer list. We’ve come a long way!