Good Beer Hunting

Fervent Few

Fervent Few — To Cellar Or Not To Cellar

As we talked about last week, it’s the time of year where lots of folks start turning to bigger beers: Barrel-Aged Stouts, English-Style Barleywines, and various Wild Ales often sold in large format bottles meant to be shared with friends and family. These beers are also known to change over time, which leads many consumers to storing them in homemade “cellars” to enjoy later while considering that change. But increasingly, many breweries are now saying, “Drink these beers fresh!” This week, we asked the Fervent Few: are your cellaring days over, or are you continuing to lay beers down for months or years despite the wishes of their makers?


Lana Svitankova: “Well, the idea of cellaring came after some experience and knowledge about beer, so I'd never try to age/store beers with ‘drink fresh’ on them. The thing is, I have never seen anything worth cellaring—BA, heavy strong beers, or sours/mixed-ferm/wilds—labeled ‘drink fresh.’”

John Goss: “The brewers intent does matter to me. They let it leave the brewery when it's ready to roll. Drink up!”

Andrew Drinkwater: “I appreciate the cellaring note from Adam of Floodland here in Seattle: ‘My cellaring notes are generally this: the beers are well conditioned, don't cellar them for long. It's beer—drink it sooner rather than later.’ It can be difficult to resist hoarding beers that are available just once a year so that they can be pulled out later, or very limited beers that you know are going to be one-and-done: you want to save them for a special occasion, but end up with a couple full of beers you never open.”

Ross O’Neill: “I've changed my cellaring process over the last year or so, I had amassed a ridiculous amount of beer that had been cellared for at least a year, many longer than that, and it got to the point where I just wasn't getting to them quickly enough, if at all, so wound up bringing some stale-arsed beer to bottle shares. Now, I have a limit of 6 months that I'll cellar anything, I have all the beers listed with its brewed date and cellar date, sorted front to back, and I'll pull them and bring them into work at the taproom I work at on the weekend and we'll have them post-shift. So no more verticals, but I'm ok with that.”

Caldwell Bishop: “I’ve seen beers that say ‘drink fresh’ that I know (from social media or the rare date code) are a couple months old for sale at local shops. So it’s pretty hard for me to take a ‘drink fresh’ note seriously if I’ve seen a brewery’s beers age on shelves for so long.”

Carla Jean Lauter: “The hardest thing for me is that I am terrible at managing a cellar of any sort. I tend to ‘accidentally cellar’ things that I don't get around to drinking. The more things that I buy that are supposed to be consumed fresh, the more likely that they will end up in the indefinite purgatory of my beer fridge. But is that the brewer's fault? No. The one thing that this has changed for me, though, is that I'm more conscious of dates when I'm purchasing the beer. If I know there's a chance I won't get to it in a few weeks, it doesn't help if what's on the shelf is already a month old. In the end, if I'm disappointed when I get around to drinking it and it's way past its prime, I can only blame myself.”

Jim Plachy: “I used to love cellaring beers. Especially to be able to do a side by side comparison with a fresh bottle. But what I’m finding more often than not is that the fresh bottle tastes way better than the cellared bottle. Over the last year I’ve found myself cellaring fewer and fewer bottles and I imagine soon there won't be much in there at all.”

Tiffany Waldron: “I think the general public still doesn't entirely understand that beer is best when fresh—that it should be treated like a food product. And realistically, 98% of the time, the beer is better when it's fresh. One thing that drives me nuts is when brewers sell beer that needs to be cellared to taste its best—why not hold it and release it when it's ready? Expecting bars to hold on to kegs for 12+ months for optimal beer flavor is ridiculous. In saying that, though: when barreled beers are vintaged, I do enjoy tasting how they’ve changed over the years.”

Matthew Modica: “I would tend to trust the brewer on this. If their intention is known, then follow that intention. If you’re so bold to disregard those intentions, then I would hope that you're just curious about off flavors or flavor development under the cellaring method that you believe to be best. Best method should obviously be to get a glass upon release and decide for yourself whether or not you deem it to be cellar worthy. I don't save beer anymore. This past week, actually, I asked my fiancé to pick a bottle from the cellar every day so we can drink it for better or worse, and this way my hand has no guide other than that of someone who has nothing but ripe curiosity. No veto. She can pick whatever the hell she wants and we drink it or toss it. Last night was a 2007 Bourbon County Stout, tonight is a 2007 Rodenbach Grand Cru.”

James Hernandez: “As the years have gone by, I have been drinking beers much sooner.  Looking at a full fridge and boxes in my pantry is getting old. Most of the beer from the breweries I drink I try to enjoy fresh or within a month or two. People demand too much from breweries nowadays, in my opinion. You buy beer save it for a year and take to social media and complain immediately when your $40 BA Stout has faded vanilla or maple. Once you buy the beer and own it for a certain amount of time, it’s yours. Buy it, drink it, enjoy.”

Rick Owens: “I tend to appreciate seeing this type of guidance on bottles. Not only does the brewer know much more than I do about his intention for the beer and how it’s tasting, but it encourages me to open and enjoy now with friends now versus saving for some special occasion that may or may not come down the road. On that note, finally opening my last bottle of Blaugies & Hill Farmstead, la Vermontoise.”

Do you have a mass of beers patiently aging? Do you find fresher beers better, or prefer rolling the dice? Join the Fervent Few and let us know what you do with your bottles!

Hosted by Jim Plachy