Do you know what it’s like to collect something? It might start with just one or two somethings, but it can easily get out of hand. Before you know it, you have an entire shelf dedicated to it. It’s cool until it’s suddenly not, and you find yourself itching to get that damn space back. I mean, just think of all the other, more functional things you could store on that shelf. That’s how I feel about my cellar beer collection.
For at least eight years, I’ve been collecting beers the way some people collect wine. Some of them are so old, they still have their original $8.99 price tag (a 2009 Deschutes Brewery Mirror Mirror, a barrel-aged barley wine that would probably run close to $16 or $18 a bottle today). The collection started small. We’d buy one to drink today, one for next year, and a third to sample down the road. Certain types of beers actually improve with age, so it was fun to see how they’d developed over time. But those triplet purchases quickly became sextuplets, because wouldn’t it be even cooler if we could drink one EVERY year and still have a crazy awesome vertical tasting in five years?
Then we started driving out of town for rare beer releases so we had the latest and greatest beer from X Brewery in our collection. I mean, they only made 12 cases, and that brewery is so hot right now. We sought out anything with the words “bourbon barrel aged,” looked for wax-covered Flanders-style reds, and anything inoculated with wild yeasts or Brettanomyces. It really started to run away from us when we started collecting any old beer over 8 percent ABV to see if they could withstand the test of time (spoiler alert: they could not).
At one point, we had over 200 bottles, and it became difficult to find an occasion to drink them. Not only that, but the type of beers you’re likely to cellar have a certain set of characteristics, like 8 to 15 percent ABV beers with a super malty backbone or a mouth-puckering sour quality. Belgian beers are the exception, but you usually end up with a ton of stouts, porters, and barrel-aged beers that aren’t exactly quaffable on a 90-degree summer day. Those beers got pushed to the back of the shelf. Years later, we’d pull them out and say, “Huh, when did we buy this?”
Some beers can last five or more years, but most reached their peak within two years. They became a shadow of their former self, tasting overly stone-fruit-like at best and super soy-saucy at worst, and we ran the ever-present risk of opening a bottle only to be greeted by off flavors. Any beer that tastes stale, oxidized, or funky will probably get dumped after the first sip.
But I’m not the type of person to allow regret to fill my veins, so the only way to get my shelf back is to drink. Browsing has become like a chore, but I do find a few bottles that blow my mind. Cantillon is always a winner (as are most lambics, if I’m being honest), and certain breweries like Oregon’s Pfriem rarely disappoint. Somehow, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to drink the oldest Deschutes Abyss bottles – just in case anyone wants to do a vertical tasting with us.
Will we ever get through the cellar? I’m not sure. It’s taken a long time to reduce it down to one shelf, and while I’d love to reclaim that space, I’m also pretty stoked when I find something well-aged. I think the luster is gone. I’m okay missing out on the rarest bottles because I know how easy it is for that collection to take over.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected]