Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tis the Season for Good Beer

There seems to be a new beer finding its way to my local beer shops every day around this time of year, the winter seasonals!  I've sampled quite a number of them already, with 2 Below by New Belgium being the most shocking thus far.  No, it wasn't the best beer, but I really (really) did not enjoy this beer last year - maybe I didn't 'get it' or perhaps my palate was just off.  Either way, I've found 2 Below to be a great hoppy beer this season.

OK, this isn't a beer review!  Among the vast selection of seasonal beers on the shelves now are beers that you should consider putting away for a few years.  I won't go into a list of beers for you to buy, but there are a few guidelines to remember this holiday season when you're buying beer, and these are in no particular order.
  • Smoked beers age better than you might expect.  In fact, I recently discovered that smoking malts serves as a preservative of sorts - similar to hops, but not.
  • Beers high in ABV generally age better, but... remember you have to actually like the beer before you lay it down.  Lots of alcohol doesn't guarantee 3 years will make it an exceptional beer.  If there's a beer out there that's over the top in alcohol, but tastes like hell, you can put it away if your only other choice is to toss it.  Just don't expect miracles.
  • High Hopped beers are good to age, really.  I recently enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Hopsickle that I found to be exceptional.  Yes, much of the signature qualities of the beer had gone away with time, but what was left was absolutely wonderful.  Just remember that if you're a hop fanatic, the kind that needs to feel assaulted by your beer, you may lose some of the endearing qualities of your favorite dumperial IPA when you lay it down for a few years.
  • Light beers don't age well.  I've tried too many Pilsners and Pale Ales, Wits and Hefes that have been forgotten on someone's shelf - they really aren't meant for aging.  Then again, I hear rumors that some of you actually like skunked beer.
  • Corked beer - lay it on its side if you're aging it for a long time.  If you keep it upright, the cork may dry and allow more oxygen into the bottle - which won't be horrible, but not great either.
  • Capped beer can be aged standing up just fine.
  • Sour beers can age forever, I am just convinced of that.  I had a 1994 lambic earlier this year that seemed as hard as the day it was bottled (not that I had it in 1994).  I've heard that well crafted Krieks will age for decades with no ill-effect.
  • Keep beer out of light if you're serious about doing a series of vertical tastings some year in the future.  You have some wiggle room on ambient temps, but generally you don't want them over 65 degrees because it can damage or kill whatever yeast may be in a bottle.  If you get a beer below 50 degrees it won't harm your beer, but you also won't be 'aging' it in a very effective way as the yeast will become dormant, lazy (like me in the winter).
  • Speaking of vertical tastings - age your beer for a good reason.  I don't necessarily think aging hundreds of beer just to say you have hundreds of beers is impressive.  You should try to collect a case of a few different beers every year (for me, I have years of Bigfoot and Anchor Christmas, along with Alaskan Smoked Porter I build upon each year) and then, when you have 5 or 7 years worth - enjoy them!  Bring a handful of friends over and either take notes or just see if you can detect the differences of the beer from year to year.  Vertical tastings are great, mind opening experiences.
  • Be patient.  If you can, don't open your collection for a few years, minimum.  
  • Belgian strong ales age wonderfully.
  • German strong lagers age wonderfully too.
As an aside of sorts, it is a good idea (in my mind) to give nice beers as Christmas gifts - especially when going to informal events for work or friends in the next few weeks.  Good beer is relatively cheap and almost always appreciated by those who receive it.  The last two years I attended "Pink Elephant" parties where gifts were exchanged - and they had to be under 10 dollars.  Well, just so happens I could pick up a 22oz Bourbon Barrel Barleywine from my local brewer for that price - so I picked up a case and put them in those cheap (but nice looking) wine bottle holders you see everywhere.  I kept the case in my trunk actually, as it seemed that you never knew when you'd bump into someone or find yourself in need of an emergency gift.  The beer was a hit, everywhere I went.  In fact, at one party were you're allowed to 'steal' gifts from someone, that bottle of barleywine was the most commonly stolen gift!

I know that Miller Light has an ad on TV now suggesting you give that as a gift for the holidays, but why?  If you're going to give the gift of beer to someone you know this year, at least make it a good beer.

With that, I bid you good day and happy shopping (anyone else love shopping online in order to avoid the holy hell that is The Mall?).