This post is in direct response to Andy Crouch’s article “The Futility of Beer Styles” in this month’s (October 2013) Beer Advocate magazine [Edit: Andy has made me aware that this was only part 1 of 3 and these concerns will be addressed in future parts. A fact not mentioned in the magazine]. If you haven’t read it yet then I won’t fault you for reading it before continuing this post. However, if you don’t get Beer Advocate magazine or don’t want to wait then the quick summary is that he advocates for discontinuing the use of beer styles.
Tag Archives: beer advocate
Recently I’ve embarked on a voluntary freeze on beer purchases so I could force myself to 1) put more effort into brewing beers to drink and 2) begin drinking down the beers in my cellar which I haven’t tried before. This has had me thinking a bit about proper cellar technique and I thought I would pass some tips on to those of you who are new to cellaring beer or are considering starting to do so.
1. Cellar conditions
The most important thing here are light level and temperature control. You don’t want beer that is light struck. While the amber-colored bottles that most breweries use to bottle with do help cut down on light entering the beer, you’re going to want to keep your bottles in something like a closet or other area where there isn’t going to consistent visible light. You can read why light on your bottles over a lengthy period of time is bad here. As a quick aside, this is also a reason I am weary to buy beer that has been sitting on a bottle shop shelf forever under lights.
As for temperature, ideal is probably in the 50-60 degree range. This isn’t easy to do, which is why a makeshift “cellar” in your bedroom closet isn’t going to cut it. You can store beer at higher temperatures than that for a short to moderate time frame (depending on the beer and the temperature), but if you’re counting on building a ten year vertical of your favorite stout, you’re going to need a cool basement or a small refrigerator to store it in. Note: just like you don’t want a hot cellar, you also don’t want one that gets below freezing in the winter.
I recommend that bottles are stored upright, though this has been argued to death in the beer community. My logic is that since many of the beers I cellar are bottle conditioned, I’d rather have that yeast settle to the bottom of the bottle than on the side (which would happen if you laid them on their sides).
2. Beers to cellar
I’m not going to get into the science of this, but beers I’ve had the best luck with have had one of more of these characteristics:
- Sour (as in lambic/wild sour, not “bitter beer face” sour)
- High ABV
- Bottle conditioned (most of the time it will say on the bottle)
There are exceptions, of course. Some people like to cellar Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, which is none of the above. I have one specific additional rule for my own cellar, which contributes to why I’ve been drinking mine down recently. I do not like to cellar a beer that I have not tried fresh before. I just don’t understand why you would cellar a beer when you have no baseline to measure the cellared beer against. I also try to stay away from cellaring beers with adjuncts like coffee since, in my opinion, the fading of those flavors does the original beer a disservice.
DO NOT cellar hoppy beers. Hop-forward beers, with a few exceptions (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Stone Old Guardian and other hoppy beers that become an intentionally different beer when the hops fade), taste awful cellared. That IPA you picked up at the store was intended for you to drink fresh. By all means, feel free to experiment, but that Bell’s Two Hearted that’s been sitting in the back of your fridge for four months is going to taste like crap.
3. Some of my favorite “off the shelf” beers to cellar
These are some affordable, widely available beers that seem, in my and others’ opinions, to cellar well. Bonus points for labelled, yearly releases for allowing for the building of verticals.
- Stone Imperial Russian Stout
- Stone Old Guardian
- Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
- A good deal of Belgian-style ales (Quads/Tripels/etc.)
- Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
- Dogfish Head 120 Minute (not that readily available, but still)
- Bell’s Expedition Stout
- Orval (there’s a reason you can buy them pre-aged)
- Fuller’s Vintage Ales
- Most Jolly Pumpkin beers
With all of that in mind, there is some disagreement in the beer community over cellaring, so don’t just take my word for it. Googling “beer cellaring tips” bring up about a bazillion results, so go to town if you’d like more information. Beer Advocate has a good write up on cellaring here.
I’d also like your feedback. Do you cellar? If so, what is your setup like? What beers do you think do particularly well with a year or two on them?
For the longest time, I was unnecessarily skeptical about buying Rivertown’s Lambic. I’ve found many of their beers hit-or-miss in the past, and dropping $15 or so on a hard to get right beer style that a brewery has never brewed commercially before didn’t sound like a great idea. Then the opinions, many from people whose opinion on beer I highly respect, started rolling in. These ranged from “good for a beer brewed in Cincinnati” (from those loath to believe that a non-boring, good-tasting beer can be brewed here) to just plain “good”. I didn’t hear any complaints about it at all, which might be the first, in my experience, for a local beer.
Then the Beer Advocate review came out. There had been a number of generally positive user reviews of Rivertown Lambic on the site, but until a recent issue of the magazine arrived at my door, the verdict was out on what the founders of Beer Advocate thought. To I think everyone’s, except the brewers and those who have tried it before’s, surprise, they scored it a remarkable 94/100. Seeing that, I knew I had to track down a bottle and ended up doing so, finding what has to be one of the last bottles in the Cincinnati-area still on the shelves.
The lambic pours a hazy, yet still bright, straw color. This is largely because it is (appropriately) unfiltered, so the yeast and other sediments never quite settle. Because it’s unfiltered, you also will want to take care to leave the “dregs” at the bottom of the bottle so as to avoid filling your glass with it. The head was a brilliant white, but was smaller than I’m used to seeing on a young lambic and it dissipated quite quickly.
The nose is that of your classic lambics: “funk”, citrus, oak, with a small bit of graininess and a touch of earthy must. The taste is tart, but not too sour yet. I’d like to see how puckering it is once it gets a few years on it, but at less than a year on the shelves, it still needs a little time to let the residual yeast keep working its magic in the bottle. Other than the tartness, the flavors are lemon zest and a bit of fruitiness, backed by an oakiness which helps dry out some of the sweetness than aging will take care of. The body is light, with medium-high crisp, refreshing carbonation that I was concerned wouldn’t be there since the head was so weak on the initial pour.
Overall, Rivertown Lambic far surpassed my expectations. Almost all of the issues I had with it, outside of the weak head, can be dealt with by hanging onto the bottle for a year or two. For a first release of its type from the brewery, this is a heck of a beer. While it obviously doesn’t measure up to Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, etc., I wouldn’t expect it to. It does, however, beat out most other commonly available lambics at the same price point, which is a heck of a feat for a relatively new brewery. If you can still find the 2010 bottles or if you’d like to wait until 2011 ones are released, you need to give this local option a try if you’re a fan of sour/wild ales.
Wild and “sour” ales have been all the rage in the past year or so, with adventurous brewers adding Brettanomyces (one of the yeast strains that can help make a beer funky and tart) to every beer style under the sun. Between this lambic, Pestilence (review upcoming), and the few new sour beers (1, 2) that Rivertown will be releasing in the next year, it’s cool to see a local brewer jumping into the mix and trying their hands at some creative beers that go beyond the traditional to-the-style European-based beers that Cincinnati-area brewers seem so in love with. I, for one, will definitely be picking up anything new and exciting that Rivertown decides to release in the future.