Cellaring Beer: it all Started with Bell’s Java Stout

In Beer News by Ryan

You may or may not have noticed that we have a new tab at the top of our homepage, “The Cellar.”  It’s a comprehensive listing of what we have in our cellar, when it was purchased or bottled and how much of it we have.  There are also some pictures and links to beers currently in the cellar that we have reviewed.

Now, I don’t want to shatter your image of The Guys or our cellar.  But, the cellar is not a cellar by traditional standards.  It is not in the corner of a basement or a specially built room off the kitchen.  Instead, our cellar is in the corner of a guest bedroom closet in one of The Guys apartments.  While it doesn’t stay at the optimal 50 to 55 degrees – it stays pretty darn close.

The cellar also didn’t start with the grandiose purpose of aging some of the greatest beers available and developing a world-class collection.  It actually started by accident when I  took a job two years ago that required me to travel to Michigan every few weeks.  This was about six months after I bought a beer fridge and was rapidly developing a palate for craft beer.

When I first started traveling to Michigan Bell’s was still unavailable in Chicago.  And while I have seen Founders and Dark Horse on the shelves of my local liquor store I didn’t really know much about them.  On top of that there were breweries like Stoudts and Stone available there but not in Illinois.  Needless to say this opened up a whole new world to me.  I would routinely come home with a trunk full of beer, which meant I then had a closet full of beer.

The actual process of cellaring beer was a fluke.  The closet full of beer gave me a regular rotation.  It was great.  The last bottles of Stone’s IPA were drunk.  No problem.  I’ll just throw in a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo.  It wasn’t until Bell’s announced, in the fall of 2008, that Java Stout was on vacation that I purposely held a six-pack of beer back from the fridge.  And so it sat, bypassed on a regular basis for another six-pack.  At the time I had no idea that beer actually changed when it was in the bottle.  So, I figured I could hold on to it until I really wanted it or Bell’s announced it would be coming back.

Fast forward about a year-and-a-half and that six-pack is still in the back of a closet.  During that time I started to better understand cellaring beer; what beers are good candidates, how long they can age and what conditions are best.  My collection was building but those six bottles of Java Stout were still there.  So, one night I got together with Karl and Andrew and cracked a bottle of what was now two-year old Java Stout and a fresh bottle to compare.  The difference between the two was night and day.  Fresh Java Stout exploded with roasted, bitter coffee flavors while the two-year old Java Stout had a robust, chocolate taste to it.  That little comparison is what really jump started this aging experiment.

Now, I am cellaring with a purpose.  I have beers like Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, North Coast’s Old Stock Ale, Stone’s Vertical Epics & Double Bastard Ales, Anchor’s Christmas Ale and Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine that I am holding on to for vertical tastings.  Then, there are beers like Dark Horse’s Double Crooked Tree IPA, Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA and Founders Devil Dancer that are being cellared for a double IPA experiment.  From what I have read, if aged long enough, the hops fade drastically and the malt character takes over making it more of a barleywine.  We want to find that out on our own.  And don’t get me wrong, we have had our fair share of failed cellaring experiments.  Most notably aging Dark Horse’s Stout Series for a year (the only one that is worth it is Plead the 5th).

Essentially, we want our cellar and cellar reviews to take the guess-work out of aging beer for you.  We want to provide you with a comprehensive look at when a beer reaches it peak and when it is past its prime.  And all points in between.  So, check back often especially if there is a beer on the list that you are particularly interested in.

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About the Author

Ryan

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.