The topic for this month's The Session is titled The Display Shelf: When to Drink the Good Stuff and is hosted over at The Ferm.
This is definitely a topic that I can identify with. When I last took an inventory, I have over 300 bottles of beer of varying sizes, styles and ages in my cellar. Limited releases, commemorative releases, anniversary editions, seasonals, one-offs, vertical years (some as many as 5 years), foreign and domestic. And that number doesn't include cases of my own homebrewed beer or the beer that I've purchased for relatively quick consumption (beer that I'm going to drink within a couple of weeks). My "collection" also quickly took over the old fridge that we moved into the garage when I received 24 bottles as Christmas gifts.
I had the best intentions when I first started saving beer. I wasn't hording a limited release in order to try and sell it for big dollars on E-Bay. I saved the big beers that I thought could benefit from a little age on them to mellow those young flavours. Beers that had a special meaning and I wanted to open on a special event. Beers that I hauled back from around the world. And as much as my wife complains about my collection, she helped to grow its size by bringing me beer when she traveled often for work. So if I'm going to drink one of these beer that I may never get a chance to drink again, shouldn't I wait for a more special occasion then a Monday while watching Big Bang Theory? I don't want to sit around and discuss every minor nuance of a beer, but I also think its more fun to share these beers with someone else who will appreciate it and talk about it. I can explain to our dog how the characteristics of a beer have changed and mellowed over time, but she doesn't seem to share my level of excitement.
About a year ago, on a rainy day in March, I profoundly declared on my blog that I would begin savouring instead of saving. I would continue to add beer to my cellar, but I would also begin actively savouring beer from my collection on some level of regularity. I did it for a while, picking different beers at random and posting about it. But, stuff like vacations, kitchen remodelling, parents visiting, etc got me a little off track. However, a friend came over a few weeks ago and it was fun to dig around in the cellar again and bring out a few things and share. That weekend also brought up an important issue when saving beer... knowing when a beer needs to be drank.
Some beers are able to age for longer then others. Beers with high alcohol levels (barley wines, old ales, imperial stouts, strong Belgian ales) can age a lot longer then beers with a low level. There are also some styles such as bottle fermented beers that are basically continuing to change and develop the longer they sit. Aging a beer can increase it's complexity as flavours can develop that were not present in the fresh version. Some flavors can become more prominent while other flavours can mellow and soften. But, at some point, ever beer hits a peak and needs to be consumed. The Saint Arnold Stout from 2005 we had a few weeks ago was definitely at its end of life, but the 2006 was still great. This brought up the important fact that I need to review the beers in my cellar more often and start deciding which ones need to be consumed next. Nothing would be worse then cellaring a special beer for years only to open it and find it undrinkable.
So, I'm still struggling with when to drink the good stuff, but I have started to make more of an effort to enjoy what I have been saving. In fact, I'll probably break out a few things this weekend for a special dinner we're having, it seems like a good enough reason.