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Things I’ve Learned About Cellaring Beer

Finding a primer on cellaring beer is pretty easy these days. A quick Google search will bring up results from the expected (beer rating sites, breweries, beer magazines) and somewhat unexpected (NPR recently had a blog post about cellaring beer). Most repeat the same basic info: cellar strong beers in a cool, dark space; put away multiple bottles and check how they’re aging every now and then; cellaring is an art, not a science; store beer upright (this last point was in debate for a while, but upright seems to be the consensus now). I’ve been cellaring beer for some time in a variety of places. In my old apartment it was under the sink, but for over two years they’ve been in the storage unit for my condo. A couple of special bottles were stored in my parents cold cellar that has a real consistent temperature. I still think of my cellar as relatively new and small (under 80 bottles), but I’ve learned a couple of things over the years – things that other articles on starting a cellar tend not to bring up.

One rule I’ve created for myself is to only cellar beers that I like when they’re young. There can be some exceptions – I may not love a beer because the alcohol is too hot, but this will ideally calm down when cellared. There have been times when I’ve bought two to four bottles of a beer with the idea of cellaring it, only to open one and find out that it wasn’t to my taste. Sometimes this can be amended if you can return the beer for a refund or pawn it off to an unsuspecting friend/relative. I have also cellared beers in hope they get better, but they rarely do. As someone with a finite amount of space to cellar beer (as most of us are), these duds just take up space of a more worthy beer. When possible, I now buy one bottle or seek out a beer on tap and then decide whether or not to buy more for the cellar, which also has the nice advantage of saving me some money. This isn’t always possible for special, limited release beers, so it’s not a foolproof system.

I’ve also learned that beer is pretty resilient. Most people don’t have ideal cellars. The temperature in my storage unit varies wildly, but never gets too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. I’ve come to accept that the temperature is beyond my control and so far it hasn’t been a problem. This might mean I won’t ever have a beer cellared for twenty years, but my luckily I’m also pretty impatient so that was never likely to happen anyway. At least it’s dark, dry and the temperature changes are gradual. A lot of people cellar beers in their apartment because the temperature is consistent, even though it is warmer than any article will tell you. Strong beers are big enough to withstand less than ideal situations. Don’t let a less-than-perfect space stop you from cellaring beer.

The recommendation to buy multiple bottles of a beer you want to cellar and then try it every so often (say, six months or one year) is a smart one, but it assumes your cellar has plenty of space and you have enough money to buy four bottles of lots of different beers. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions – do you want a lot of one beer or two bottles of many beers? I’ve often stocked up on cheaper beers from the LCBO (like Rochefort 8 and 10) – these smaller bottles take up less space and they’re also easier for me to drink one of compared to a bomber of a strong ale. I love St Bernardus Abt 12 and the Cuvee Van De Keizer that come into the LCBO at less than $10/bottle, but don’t need four bottles of each in my cellar (especially when they’re released in the LCBO every year). I might regret that decision when tasting them five years down the road, but I’d rather have the space now to cellar different beers.

It’s hard to talk about cellaring without talking about verticals. I love to take many different vintages of a beer and compare them, which has impacted picking which beers to cellar. If you’re thinking that you might want to do verticals at some point, start cellaring beers that you know will be in the LCBO every year. (Examples: Amsterdam Tempest, Nickel Brook Kentucky Bastard, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, as well as the beers listed in the last paragraph.) Trying to age beer for verticals means you have to allot space in your cellar for the future vintages as well as the present. This experience has always been worth it for the simple fact of seeing how a beer changes over time. Just don’t always expect the oldest bottle to be the best.

There are lots of websites out there that can help you track your cellar. I keep mine listed in an online spreadsheet that includes the numbers of bottles, what year it was bottled and when to drink it by (sometimes this is listed on the bottle, other times you may have to make up a time – say three or five years). This helps me make sure that beers are less likely to spoil because they’ve been cellared for too long. I’ve also started to use Cellar HQ, because it is easier for people to see when setting up trades (you can view my cellar).

My last recommendation is to view your cellar as always evolving. I’ve reached my limit for space, which means that beers must come out whenever new beers go in. Now that it has been building for a number of years, there is always something down there that is ready to drink. Some of the beers down there are for special occasions, but I also have plenty that can be open anytime (as long as there are a couple of people to help me drink it). Don’t place the beers on a pedestal just because they’ve been cellared – they are meant for enjoyment and sharing, just like any other beer.

Best of luck in building your cellar!

The 2013 Predictions: The Final Results

The final results of my 2013 Predictions have been posted and, well, this year didn’t fair so well. Only 58% of my predictions came true, which was well below the 2012 result of 71%. This is a big disappointment from the past year, on par with the last Blue Jays season. Like the final interview while clearing out the locker at the end of a season, here are some final notes and thoughts about what went wrong in 2013:

  • The RateBeer prediction was a total flop. Beers I hoped would make a jump, like the Bellwoods Witchshark, stayed relatively flat in their 99 scores. There weren’t as many big beer releases in 2013 as there were in 2012 (which had a number of high scoring beers from Great Lakes, Bellwoods, Flying Monkeys and the Muskoka Twice as Mad Tom). Based on early ratings it’s possible the Amsterdam Barrel Aged Double Tempest may get close to a 100 score, but the big question will be whether it gets enough ratings.
  • The east end brewery of my dreams has not materialized, though I’ve heard rumours that Muddy York is trying to get started in East York.
  • The business side of things was boring. No one closed and no one was bought out. I still think we’ll see a brewery close their doors in the next year or two, especially as competition increases.
  • There were Ontario beers that cost $15+ per bottle, but none of them were released in the LCBO. Bellwoods, Great Lakes and Amsterdam all had beers that met this amount, so my prediction wasn’t too far off.

Not the most stellar year of predictions, but a pretty damn good year of drinking beer. I’m only going to make one prediction for 2014: the Ontario beer scene will be awesome!

So Long, and Thanks for All the Beer

Is it better to burn out or to fade away? That question has been hovering around this blog, at least in my head, for the past eight months. Today marks the end of A Year of Beer, which I think puts me in the “burn out” category. It is also the fourth anniversary of this blog and the 600th post, which seems like an apt time to bring a sense of closure. It may be a slight OCD tendency, but it’s nice to end on round numbers.

There are many reasons why I’ve chosen to end the blog at this point in time. The demands of work have made it harder to regularly produce content. There are things I’d rather be doing with my evenings or weekends than sitting in front of a computer. The beer journalism landscape has changed drastically in the past four years, meaning that I’m now competing with freelance writers for stories and content. This is great for the industry in general and these writers are friends, but it’s hard on a blogger that works full-time. More media events and tastings are being held during the weekdays, which made most almost impossible to attend. It was not an easy decision, but one that feels right.

This is something I’ve been contemplating for months, but didn’t make a final decision until I was in Belgium earlier in the summer. I had a bit of a buzz and was wandering the cobblestone streets of Brussels, anguishing over the thought of coming home and having to write about my trip. That is when I realized that blogging had no longer become fun, which it was for the first three years. Yes, there have been nice perks, but the benefits were now outweighed by the sense of obligation to write two or three posts a week and provide coverage for anyone kind enough to send some beer in the post. It was then that I decided to end the blog before it killed my love of beer.

The sense of bliss after making that decision may partially be a result of all the gueuze, coupled with how beautiful Brussels is in the rain. But there was also a sense of freedom – it was now possible to once again enjoy beer and be free of my shackles as a beer blogger (woe be unto him). It has now been two months since that decision was made and it’s time to shut it down. If you see me at a Toronto Beer Week event and I look insanely happy, it’s because I don’t have to rush home and write an event wrap-up post.

My love of beer has never been stronger. A big part of my decision is wanting to go back to enjoying beer without all of the outside distractions that come with blogging. Those in Toronto can still expect to see my face at a lot of events. I will still be active on Twitter under my @ayearofbeer handle. Giving your opinion in 140 characters or less is much better for time management, so that is where most of my beer-related thoughts will go now.  I can also now put my time and energy into other projects like Toronto Bottle Share.

The craft beer landscape has changed so much in the past four years and it has been thrilling to play a teeny, tiny role in how beer gets talked about in Ontario. The Ontario beer scene has been getting better every year this blog has been in existence and I know that the best is yet to come. The biggest change that I’ve noticed is that Ontario craft beer now gets treated with a respect that was not there four years ago. The beer made here holds up to those from anywhere else in the world.

Like any good soap opera, no death is final and the blog may be sporadically resurrected from time to time. There will be a final post for the 2013 Predictions in December. You may still find the very occasional rant about a beer-related topic, but it’s hard to say right now. Maybe I’ll do guest posts for whatever other blogs will have me – it’s hard to say. I am very proud of the four years worth of time and effort put into this blog. My fear was that keeping this blog alive would only diminish all of that hard work if the posts suddenly dried up and I just allowed it to fade away. (My other fear is not being allowed back onto the Beer Writers curling team.)

The past four years have truly been amazing and have far surpassed my expectations when this blog began (though I had no expectations, so that is not really saying much). There were a countless number of times that I wrote a post only to think, “Hmmm, I doubt anyone will care about this topic but me.” Those posts usually got the most comments, shares and views. It has been the support of my readers throughout the past four years that has kept this blog going for this long. It seems hollow when compared to all that you have given me, but thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’d also like to thank my wife as she has put up me and this blog for the past four years. There have been too many times where I’ve been unable to do something with her because of blogging obligations, yet she continues to be my biggest supporter. (Don’t feel too bad for her, though – she was usually my plus one for events. And yes, she likes beer too.)

Drinking so much amazing beer has been great, but the best part has been meeting so many people who are passionate about craft beer. So many people have supported this blog and I am grateful to everyone one of you. Expect to still see me at your bars, breweries and events drinking delicious Ontario craft beer. There are too many people to thank individually and I’m terrified of leaving someone out, so let’s leave it at this – beer people are truly the best people. Thank you all once again.

-Michael Warner

2013 Predictions: Update #5

By now you should know the drill. Here’s the latest on the 2013 Predictions:

  • There are two new beers at 4.5% ABV or less – the Hockley 100 and Railway City Canada Southern Draft. (Hey, I never said they were going to be good beers!)
  • There are also two new barrel/oak-aged beers – the Beau’s Festivale Plus Sticke Alt and the Radical Road Wayward Son (which is listed on the LCBO website and will be appearing in stores soon).
  • A half point is given to the Great Lakes Audrey Hopburn for being a hybrid Belgian ale (in this case, an IPA). Once again, it should be on shelves soon.
  • One point is also lost for good – there was not a special beer released for OCB Week, which is too bad. That seems like a wasted opportunity.

The score now stands at 12.5 our of 31, which is pretty reasonable for this time of year. Can’t wait for all the September to December releases boosting my score!