Aging Dilemma

I’ve found myself with a slight dilemma on my hands lately.  Winter is a great time for really big beers to come out.  You can get heavy imperial stouts, huge barleywines, or really good scotch and old ales.  These beers are delicious and all I want to do is get them home, chilled, and consumed.  There is a different way to think about this though.  Why not get them home, put them in a box, wait a year or two, and then get them out to drink.  I know, for those reading who aren’t beer enthusiasts, this sounds like a crazy idea.  You buy alcohol to go home and consume it.  Why would you ever buy a beer with the intention of letting it sit around for a year or two before you consume it?  For those of us who are slightly more well versed in the language of beer, some beers only get better with time and you want to allow it to reach its full potential before you open it.  My question is: how do you fight the urge for instant gratification?

The best way I’ve found around this is buying in bulk.  Bourbon County recently landed on the soil of Washington DC, and it has created quite the stir amongst the beer nerds.  I was presented with this dilemma at first when I was only able to find a single bottle of it at a local store.  Then, walking to my second job one day, I saw a full case sitting right in the window of the shop next door to the restaurant.  Problem solved!  Yes I had to pay a pretty penny for a full 4 pack, but I now have 5 bottles of it.  I can drink one or two and age the remaining for different increments of time.  It was a beer miracle!  This, however, isn’t the way things always work out.  When possible, I always try and buy more than a single bottle of a beer I am considering aging.  I can get that instant gratification, and I can age the crap of the other bottle.  What do I do though, when I can only find, or afford, a single bottle of a big beer that would benefit from a few years in the dark?

The beer that actually sparked the thought for this blog comes out of Founders Brewing Co.  Founders produces beers that are big, bold, and tasty.  So, I couldn’t help but search with all my might to find a bottle of Bolt Cutter.  Bolt Cutter is their 15 year anniversary barleywine release.  Doing some slight research, I found that Founders released a barleywine for their 10 year anniversary, but it doesn’t seem like they brew a celebratory beer every year like Stone Brewing Co.  Therefore, I really felt like I had to find it.  I managed to procure a bottle for $24, but I only found one bottle in my area.  Now the dilemma kicks in.  Do I wait a few months to drink it, do I wait a few years to drink it, or do I crack it open the next time I have a gathering at my house?  I did manage to solve a similar problem with my bottle of Lucky Bastard from Stone Brewing Co.  I found it on tap while home for Thanksgiving break. I really doubt that ends up happening with Bolt Cutter.  Maybe I manage to find another bottle, or maybe I manage to find another way to taste it, but if I don’t, I’m not sure what do with a singular bottle.  I would love to crack open this 15% Abv right now, but I want to drink it at its optimal time.

So beer geeks, what do you do when faced with this dilemma?  Do you give in to the desire for instant gratification, or do you suck it up and age the beer to its prime?  I’ve certainly gone both ways with beers in the past, but I find myself most confused with this bottle of Bolt Cutter.  Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope!

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8 Comments

  1. I’m not quite sure how I feel about beer aging. Last Spring (or maybe it was during the winter), our good friend Miracle Max stopped by with several vintages of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine and Fuller’s Vintage Ale. While the aged versions were pretty good, I generally preferred the fresher version. I should email Max and have him chime in. He is a notorious beer hoarder/ager. I guess I’m basically telling you to go ahead and drink up! 🙂

    Cheers!
    G-LO

    • an interesting take. I would be interested to hear Matt’s perspective since you seem to be the opposite of that. I actually have a friend with a few bottles of Bolt Cutter, so I’ll get my chance to taste now and age, but I’d be interested in hearing from someone who is big on aging.

    • Thanks G-LO! Yes, I often have the same problem (one bottle of KBS, etc.) There are a few readily available (and affordable) beers (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Brooklyn Chocolate Stout) that I buy a case (or two) of every year. That gives me some now and some later. I always have 6-10 years of each beer because I drink a couple bottles the first year, a few more the next, and try to drink the most as it peaks.

      However, I always save a few past their prime! What, that’s crazy.you say? Maybe a little, but I like to offer anyone who is interested a vertical tasting of many different years. Get 6 people together and some tiny cups (2-3 oz plastic Dixie cups) a sharpie and label them ’06, ’07, ’08, etc. Everyone gets 2 oz. of 6 different “vintages” and let the tasting begin! Which one tastes the best cold? As it warms up? Does your opinion change as your taste buds become numb with the high alcohol?

      Yes, G-LO loves a big bold “smack you in the face” of hops aroma and bitterness, and therefore mostly fresher beers. As the beers age that tends to subside towards a smoother maltiness with caramels, vanillas, and sometimes something like coconut(?). I like that 🙂 As it ages even more I find it starts to lose all flavor and become flat, bland, and watery. That’s why I save a few past their prime, it isn’t an infinite magical progression, it is a bell-curve. The rate of the curve seems to be based on the individual beer (high ABV. and highly roasted full-bodied beers seem to take longer) and some of the rate seems to depend on storage conditions (temp.), and for all I know maybe even on the yeast they use for the bottle-conditioning. I like most of mine in the 3-5 year range.

      I solved the “single bottle problem” over many years by simply buying beer at a slightly faster rate than I drank it, this allows you to spread out the cost over time. After 20-30 years of playing that game and having a nice “beer closet” (and the infinite understanding of Mrs. Miracle Max) I now have a backlog of 20-25 cases. This means I can always drink any special beer any time and it is a drop in the bucket (so no tears here). I feel that sharing with an interested friend is always better than some perfection based solely on time, so I will always drink any beer that a guest wants to try. That is that beer’s perfect time in my mind.

      Caution – minor imperfections in a bottle (little infections or poor caps/corks) that you would never notice in the short term also “age” into huge disasters. Flat bland tasteless beer being the best that you can hope for, but more often you open it to find frothy volcanoes of metallic tasting sour beers that you try to drink (pretending it is a lambic/queuze) but then your wife makes you dump it out – bursting that bubble. 😦

      Short answer – Buy something else to drink now and save the Bolt Cutter for later. Any time you want to drink it go ahead, it will be good. Try it in a few years and it will probably be better. Share it with a friend and it we be at it’s best!

  2. Wow this is tough. If it’s a beer I’ve had experience with then I’d save it (point of disclosure the only “aging” beer in my fridge right now is Bruery’s Four Calling Birds, although I’ve done others is the past). But if it’s a beer I’ve never had before then I’d probably open it because I don’t see the point in aging a beer that I don’t like.

    • That’s exactly why I find it tough. If I’ve never had it before, I want to think about waiting on it because I want it to be great. Really I would just rather find multiple bottles.

  3. If faced with this dilemma, I’ll probably just drink the beer young. I’ve been playing around with aging, and it’s fun, but few beers have actually gotten better over time. Most of my aging at this point is accidental (meaning, I bought too much beer and just haven’t gotten to it or forgot I had it).

    I just got a single bottle of Bolt Cutter too, but I’ll probably just end up drinking it this winter. If I like it, I’ll just hope I can find another bottle. If I were contemplating aging it, I’d read around and see what people are saying. Are people complaining that it’s too “hot” or something? Maybe it could use some time to mellow out. It’s tough, because online reviews are sometimes very divergent, but you might be able to get a feel for how the beer will age just from that. BCBS seems to have a pretty good reputation for aging (though not BCBCS, as coffee apparently fades quickly)…


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