#DrinkNow: the exceptions to the rule
This post is about the exceptions to the #DrinkNow rule. First things first: If you don’t know the basics for aging beer, go check out this interview with Adam Avery (yes, that Avery)
My friend Jack has a Craft Beer Trajectory graph that I think nails the journey most of us have gone through as aspiring beer nerds, and I think it applies to the way we look at beer aging too. I started slowly and ramped up as I experimented. After a few successes, I took off, aging everything I could get my hands on. Eventually I peaked, experienced plenty of misses, and downshifted significantly. And now that I’m close to hitting bottom, I’ll cellar only some special, specific beers.
Before I get to those, a quick note on beers I’ll never age again. These are beers that hold up to time, but that I’ve found are significantly better fresh. Also, some of these breweries (specifically Boulevard and New Belgium) have made it clear that they think the beers are at their peak when released. They acknowledge that the beer(s) change over time, but they recommend that you drink these now:
-Stone Imperial Russian Stout
OK, now onto my recommended agers:
- The guarantee: Real Ale Sisyphus. I’ll wager that no beer on Houston shelves ages more gracefully and more dependably. It’s delicious fresh, of course, but it also develops great depth and character with aging. It nails that “pleasant oxidation” that all vintage barleywines and old ales take on, without veering into cardboard territory. At my recent Clear the Cellar night, we had a 2007-2015 Sisyphus vertical, and it was a huge hit.
- The stout: Oskar Blues Ten FIDY. My go-to aging stout used to be Stone IRS (and it’s still my favorite “normal” stout), but I’ve found that Ten FIDY more reliably improves with time. You’ll definitely notice changes at 6-month intervals, but don’t get carried away — 18-24 months is the sweet spot, and in my experience three years is too long.
- The standbys: Any of the abbey-style dark Belgians (Chimay Red and Chimay Blue; all three Rocheforts; St. Bernardus Prior 8 and Abt 12). These may be the gold standard. They’re the perfect combination of alive (they’re bottle-conditioned, so the yeast will continue to do its work as long as there’s life left in it), high-alcohol (so they’ll stand up to oxidation/degradation), and their fruity/spicy/sweet flavor profile is perfect for the journey. Really hard to go wrong here.
- The holy grail: Orval. This is my white whale of aged beer. Friends I trust (namely Aaron Inkrott) swear that 3-year-old Orval is perfection. The one time I aged an Orval for 3 years, it was a complete disaster and served as my #DrinkNow moment of salvation. But that bottle likely could have been treated better (it spent most of its life in my room-temp cabinet, not in the beer fridge), and I trust Aaron implicitly. I’ll conquer this one eventually.
- The gimmick that works: Stone Enjoy After. I was skeptical of Stone’s intentions when they first released Enjoy After — my cynical side immediately recoiled at a release that forced you to buy multiple bottles. But, well, it’s Stone, and I love Brett beers, and I love hoppy Belgians. So I caved and bought two bottles. The fresh one was a delicious Belgian IPA — not Bretty at all, but delightfully hoppy and estery and bright. Ten months later, I opened my second bottle. It was also delicious, but a completely different beer, with the Brett shining in a major way. I still think it’s kinda gimmicky, but I’d be lying if I said I won’t be buying a set of these again.
That’s my top five (plus). I’ll list a few more worth aging at least once, but remember: when in doubt, #DrinkNow.
- Saint Arnold Pumpkinator
- Stone Double Bastard
- Founders Imperial Stout
- Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
- Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
- Anchor Our Special Ale
- Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine
- Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
- Avery Demons series (Samael’s, Beast, Mephistopheles)
- Avery barrel series (Rumpkin, Uncle Jacob’s Stout)
- North Coast Old Stock