Hosting this month’s Session, on the topic of a Beer Audit, gave me an excuse to indulge in beer voyeurism, drooling over photos showing boxes of beer, shelves of beer, beds of beer and Alcofrolic Chap’s wonderful home bar.
It turns out I’m not alone in hoarding beer and taking some sort of beer audit, with responses covering varying degrees of accountancy, and ‘cellars’ with volumes ranging from Beer Runner’s three bottles or Booze, Beats & Bites pack of Carling in the fridge, through to Brookston Beer Bulletin‘s purpose built cellar “cut into the side of a hill, with a gravel floor, with a raised brick floor running around the four walls.” It seems most people at least took this month’s session as an excuse to take stock of the beers they store, even if this was simply looking at what they had and, as Appellation Beer says, “just thinking about it”.
Whilst my own beer audits really just involve having a good rummage through the cupboards and staring at the bottles for a while, the session revealed various degrees of accountancy, from cataloguing and updating spreadsheets, to Appelations “just thinking about it”. Some are fastidious with their auditing – Sheppy’s Blog knows “at all times more or less what beers I have in my ‘cellar’ – online at the SheppyBrew Beer Inventory” while Beer Search Party says “after reading the topic, the first thing I did was update my excel spreadsheet that has the relevant details on my ‘collection’”
Home Brew Manual created a graphical overview of his cellar
… while This is Why I’m Drunk mocked up an actual audit form for the occasion:
Then there are those who don’t do audits, preferring to have a stash of beer whose contents remain a surprise.
I Dream Of Brewery emphatically states “I do not do beer audits, I do however keep a lot of beer on hand leaving exactly what, where and how much as a mystery.”
A Good Beer Blog too has “no plan. I buy and forget. I actually like to hide stuff on myself. I hide stuff behind stuff.”
Beer it seems is not just for drinking, it’s for acquiring. Most of the responses talked about a collection of beer, however small.
For some, this is almost accidental. Brookston Beer Bulletin says “The funny thing is, I never really set out to build a collection of aging beer, it just sort of happened.”
Alcofrolic Chap too has a hoard of beer “aged accidentally by buying too much of the stuff. Bottles appear to multiply like rabbits behind a tacky retro home bar.”
Knittles and Beer echoes this accidental cellaring, “It’s not really the cellar, but some of it sure does hang around a while”
Disappointingly, it can also be a consequence of ending up with beer you simply don’t enjoy drinking. A Beer In Hand has, in his cellar “some stuff I have no inclination to drink (maybe 10 years on it will make it good-because I hated it the first time).” This rings true for me – each Christmas for the past few years I’ve tried again to enjoy another 2009 Anchor Christmas Ale. The last bottle has been pushed to the back of the cupboard so at some point in the future I can probably confirm again that I don’t like it!
Juan’s home Brewery too reflects on how a beer he doesn’t like becomes an aged beer. “I still have it – and, now that I come to think of it, several more in the shed – left from a case I won at a homebrew club drawing two Christmases ago.”
For some, myself included, there is a compulsion to buy beer, even when there are hundreds of bottles hoarded away. Beer Is Your Friend reflects on the “need to keep buying (or, in the case of homebrew, making) more” even when “there is scads of it” already to hand.” ALE is GooD admits too that “most of the beers in this house are backlog.”
Alcofrolic Chap frequently breaks his “promise of not buying any more until a substantial dent has been made in the stash – broken when a new load of imported beers appear on a mail order drinks website, or a UK brewer releases a new bottled brew.”
FBTE also admits to being “a good collector of beer – I definitely buy more beer than I drink”
What drives this compulsion? Beer Bar Band says “We love to hold onto special beers, hoarding bottles for the joy of rediscovering them another time or to show off long lost beers”
For Beer Is Your Friend the need arises from the fear of missing out, worrying “about rare beers that I’ll never be able to have another bottle. The zombie apocalypse might happen tomorrow and, instead of worrying about not being bitten, I’ll be thinking about that IPA I should have bought when I had the chance.”
What happens to this beer once it is stored? “It sits in the fridge. And, in most cases, gets pushed further and further to the back with each new addition.”
Many seem to suffer something akin to the plight of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, with beer “everywhere, nor any drop to drink”
Good Morning Has over a hundred beers “earmarked for certain occasions” but still wishes he “had one to drink now”
Beer Bar Band is forever conflicted over “the ‘why’ I do store beers, and the ‘how’ of avoiding falling into the trap of never having the right moment to drink those beers… waiting for that ‘very special moment’ to crack that very special beer that we are saving. Too often I close the door again without removing a bottle. ‘The time, the moment, the place are not right in this instance,’ argues the hoarding side of my brain.”
Brookston Beer Bulletin adds “What I really need, apart from a serious audit of what’s down there, is more excuses to open the bottles.”
Growler Fills also needs more excuses to open the bottles, and suggests that saving beers for special occasions hasn’t worked for him, since it turns out that there simply aren’t that many special occasions. “Amazingly, even with relatively few ‘special occasions’ and far too many in that category, I still stand there staring at the fridge trying to decide if that particular day is special enough to open this beer or that beer.”
So while for some, beer is kept for a long time through a failure to find the right time to drink it, for others beer is aged with intent. However, as Beer Bar Band cautions, “experimenting with the merits of aging beer… is a gamble” and that by and large beer is best drunk fresh.
Appellation Beer agrees, suggesting that aged beer can have merit, but “more often, you’ll screw it up. Age does not make most wine better. It certainly does not make most beer better”
Growler Fills also contemplates “the whole cellaring thing. If Abyss tastes this good now, just wait until you cellar it for a year or two! At least that’s the thinking. It is indeed fun to crack open a beer that’s been in the cellar for few years or even a decade or two. But I’m finding that aside from the novelty factor and occasionally enjoying a multi-year vertical of the same beer, the ‘wow’ factor is rare.”
Yvan at ALE is GooD, hooked into hoarding beer by BrewDog and their early Abstrakt series, has up to 300 beers at times, yet finds that with ageing beer “the risk is high… but sometimes the rewards are too. Some of the aged Abstrakts and Hardknotts I have had have transcended their ‘fresh’ form and become quite stunning. Some others have died horribly, become wraith-like shadows of their former selves or actually just plain foul.”
10th Day Brewing controls this somewhat by sampling them “at different ages and making note of the changes that transpire,” adding “Sometimes I miss out when a batch has reached a really great age. I see this quite often with ciders. There is a certain point when the character of the batch turns a corner. Before this moment the cider was decent. But after this point it becomes sublime. There is a lesson in this. Letting your work reach maturity teaches us patience. With patience we can reap rewards that far exceed our expectations.”
Drink it now!
What’s required then is a system, or perhaps simply buying beer to drink.
Marrying auditing beer with drinking it, Beer Search Party attempts to solve it by adding a new column to his spreadsheet.
“That column is ‘better drink by’. And it is an addition that I should have started tracking from purchased for the cellar, bottle #1. And I now believe it is the third most important piece of cellaring technique behind storage and picking beers that can actually age.That may sound a little too much like accounting and less fun and spontaneous but it might save people from skipping over a beer that was at its peak for one that could have chilled longer. And all it requires is a little extra research and some Excel spreadsheet sorting skills.”
Brookston Beer Bulletin too talks about “segregating the aging beer meant to be saved from the beer ready to drink now.”
Beer Nut too aknowledges “I’ve already missed the best of one Belgian IPA through my slow drinking habits. What’s required is a constant audit of what’s old, and what needs to be consumed sooner rather than later.”
Beer Is Your Friend says “I don’t get the whole thing about trying to age beer. Well, not intentionally anyway, as part of that week-long What’s in the Fridge experiment I found at least one beer I’d bought a year ago. Still tasted good.”
Jon at the Brew Site notes that this month marked the 6th anniversary of The Session, and he heasn’t missed one yet! His impressive collection includes ageing bottles of Deschutes and “A couple of ’90s or early ’00s bottles of Thomas Hardy’s Ale (which I will probably never drink, at least until I’m very old)” However, in recent years he’s “come to realize (or perhaps ‘accept’ is the more accurate term) that while some beers will do well with some aging, at its core beer is meant to be drank, and storing bottles of great beer away just to look at once in awhile just won’t do. They need to be opened. Enjoyed.”
“I need to let go a little bit and, you know, drink the beer.”
Booze, Beats and Bites and Homebrew Manual have another approach – buy to drink. “There’s also the fact that I’m not a beer hoarder and don’t buy bottles to lay down. Bought beer has a quick turnaround and is usually drunk the same day.”
It was fascinating and occasionally mouthwatering reading through the responses. I was glad to discover I wasn’t alone in haording beer, counting my beer, and then failing to drink it. But I also want a less precious relationship with beer, that some have managed, where beer doesn’t become too special to drink. I’m not disciplined enough to have a ‘new beer-free’ month (and, it turns out, neither is Beer Is Your Friend) but I will determine to drink rather than hoard. Then again, if I had that bottle of 1968 Hardy’s Ale, would I really just crack it open without ceremony?
While I ponder that, I’ll crack open a bottle that has sat in the cupboard for too long already.
Or… maybe I’ll leave it just a little while longer… I might not enjoy it 😉
Thank you to everyone that contributed, I enjoyed perusing the posts. Cheers!