A few years ago, I decided to store a handful of bottles that I wasn’t quite ready to drink in my parents’ wine cellar. I knew that some beers got better with age but had never experienced a vintage beer before. The bottles I placed in there were Victory at Sea from Ballast Point, Avery Czar Imperial Stout, Firestone Walker Sucaba Barleywine, Russian River Consecration, and Russian River Supplication. Of these original five beers, the Sucaba is the only one I have yet to drink, and I don’t think I plan to anytime soon. At first, I slowly added to the collection, sending a beer or two back with my dad every month when he would head home for the weekend after working the week in Southern California. Eventually I started drinking more aged beer through the avenues of bottle shares and bars like Beachwood BBQ hanging on to kegs of imperial stouts and barleywines for a couple years before tapping them.
The page really turned when I started to drink what I’d left in the cellar. The first was the Avery Czar, which after a year had mellowed out considerably, allowing the alcohol to come across as sweet instead of hot. I was convinced. Since then, most of my bottle purchases are actually intended to go into the cellar, which is conveniently located 200 miles away at my parents’ house to minimize the risk of me drinking something too soon. I have about 80 bottles in the cellar right now and try to have them organized mostly by type. I have two cases of nothing but sour beer, a case of all stouts, a cupboard filled with Trappist ales, and a box with twelve different Firestone Walker beers. On my first ever visit to The Bruery in Orange County, I was blown away and left with a bottle of Sour in the Rye, which I figured I would save for a special occasion, and into the cellar it went.
Recently, my brother and I were at our parents’ house for Easter and had a Sunday filled with delicious food and great wine. At the end of the day, Kyle suggested grabbing a beer from the cellar. In one of those moments where the subconscious mind makes a decision before the conscious mind even realizes what’s going on, I said “How about that Sour in the Rye I’ve been saving?” The bottle was eighteen months old at this point and I guess I instinctively knew it was time to drink it. Being in the wine industry, Kyle knows many people with incredible wine collections and unsurprisingly, most of them have wines they are saving for special occasions. Many of my friends with great beer cellars say the same thing. The problem is that after a certain point, we get afraid to open the bottles we’ve collected. I’ve done it myself and I’m sure there’s some principle of psychology in the same realm as why people hoard that explains it. Basically, after holding on to something for awhile, we tend to overvalue it and don’t want to “waste” it by drinking it at the wrong time. Many of these bottles (of beer or wine) are irreplaceable and once they’re gone, they’re gone. This leads to two problems: holding on to something for too long that it passes its prime and building up unrealistic expectations of how good it’s supposed to be. So, if you’re saving a bottle of beer or wine for the perfect moment, take my brother’s advice: “Don’t wait for the perfect event to open a special bottle; opening that bottle IS the event.”
So, we opened the Sour in the Rye and poured it into wine glasses. I’m personally of the opinion that good things happen when beer is brewed with rye and this beer is the perfect example of why I feel that way. According the Bruery, they use 40% rye for their base malt and it shines through with a lightly spicy aroma. On the nose, I also got notes of apricot and sour cherries and some tart funkiness. While the flavors are not quite as bright on an aged bottle, I found them to be more complex, taking on stronger fruit flavors. When I get the taste of stone fruits like apricot and nectarines on the palate, along with under ripe strawberries, in a beer that has no fruit added, I am very impressed. The beer also had a refreshingly sour acidity with a mouth-watering aspect that suggests taking another sip is not such a bad idea. Savoring a beer like this was an event in and of itself, and I’m really glad that I wasn’t afraid to open it this time around (there have been other instances in the past when I felt it wasn’t the right time). Beer was meant to be enjoyed, so by all means, enjoy it!