#DrinkNow: why you should stop aging beer
Right now, in your pantry/closet/beer fridge/storage unit, a beer is getting worse.
Don’t feel too bad; it’s not (entirely) your fault. But if you’re anything like most craft drinkers I know — and you’re reading this site, so you probably are — then you’re currently the proud owner of beer that is way past its prime. That thought kinda sucks, right? Well it’s not nearly as bad as opening that special bottle you’ve been saving for just the right occasion, only to take your first sniff and…BAM! Wet cardboard.
Don’t let that happen to you. If it has happened to you, don’t let it happen again. Welcome to #DrinkNow.
#DrinkNow means drinking fresh. It means drinking a beer soon after you buy it, when it’s at its (probable) peak, as the brewer intended. It means no longer aging beer.
Now, sure, there are some caveats/exceptions to #DrinkNow. I’ll get into those in a later post. For now, why #DrinkNow?
It took me a while to get here. I started aging beer essentially by default. I bought more than I could drink, and instead of slowing down the purchases, I put them in a cardboard box. That was 2008. The box turned into four by 2010. By then I was buying to age on purpose. (Remember those heady days when Houston shelves were so sparse that you could realistically buy two of every new beer, one to drink and one to age?) A couple of years later came a cabinet, and then a year later, a dedicated beer fridge. By early 2014, I had somewhere around 175 bottles aging in the fridge and the cabinet (and a couple more boxes).
Then we had the twins. Weekly trips to the store became a monthly trip, at best. Beers after work and nights out became something else entirely. If I wanted to drink beer, it had to be at home. So I went into the cellar. Some beers were still pretty good. Others had aged “interestingly”. And a select few were complete disasters — oxidized beyond belief, with no hint of the original beer left.
The tipping point came in August of 2014. To help navigate my cellar, I set up “theme weeks” (nerd alert!), with verticals, horizontals or stylistic threads. One of those was a Brett Week. Clearly a series of world-class Brett beers would’ve aged well, right? Not quite. A 2012 Green Flash Rayon Vert was really good, and a 2012 Boulevard Saison-Brett was in a bit of a sweet spot. But a 2011 Saison-Brett was weird and boozy. Worst of all, a 2011 Orval was a completely oxidized disaster. No Brett, no bite or brightness or anything resembling my favorite beer — just limp, wet cardboard.
I wasn’t quite done with aging beer. I told myself I’d stop aging Saison-Brett, and that I would be more selective. There were some hits, too — a 2011 Jester King Black Metal (OG/English Ale yeast version) was spectacular. But for every hit there were multiple misses. I’m still upset at that accidentally aged The Bruery Melange 8. Fresh, it was a spectacular coffee/bourbon blend; two years later, it had turned into a watery, ashy mess. Other misses were rarely undrinkable, but they were almost always letdowns, expected-betters, hoped-for-mores.
Most importantly, they were not as good as fresh.
By last summer, I had whittled down my cellar to about 100 bottles, and was ready to start preaching the gospel of #DrinkNow (although I didn’t coin the phrase; my friend, and fellow HBG writer Tim came up with it). I talked about it on Twitter and quickly found that many of y’all were in the same boat — maybe not at the same point of the cellaring journey, but definitely on the same path. You’d found a bottle in the back of your cellar that never should’ve been aged, or you had a well-cellared bottled that disappointed, or you realized that a beer you always age is even better fresh. Or, you finally acknowledged that a 200- or 300-bottle cellar (you know who you are) is ridiculous, impossible to manage and a waste of great beer.
I have about 45 bottles left in my cellar. Only 10 of them are being aged “on purpose”. Most of the rest are monsters from The Bruery — 750ml bottles over 12% abv that are tough to take down solo, even over a couple of nights (#HoardersProblems). I’m fully aware that the clock is ticking on them. That 2013 Black Tuesday, while likely still delicious, might have already peaked and could be getting worse by the day. Thanks to #DrinkNow, I won’t be making that mistake again.