There exists a phenomenon out there. Some may call it hoarding. Other’s perhaps consider it just a case of brews blues. It’s that feeling when you finally buy a bottle…not just any bottle…but a prized bottle of rare beer…a bottle of one of a kind beer…a 750ml bottle of beer you cannot get anywhere else at any place or at any time.
And what do you do with said prized possession? Do scurry on home, nab a tulip glass out of your collection, and sit back on the sofa to savor your purchase? No, of course not instead you do the logical thing and fiendishly stow away these precious purchases. You dig into the bottle with callous claws and refuse to let go like a petulant child on the monkey bars. You bank it in your fridge (cellar if you’re really lucky and own one). You push it into the dark recesses of the fridge door shelf and store it in the kooky corners of your mind saying all along “I’m just going to wait for the perfect moment to open this.” Of course that perfect moment never comes. Birthdays pass and excuses get thrown away like the egregious wrapping paper of your presents, the New Year rings your bell, leaves change color, and eventually that bottle of exceptional ale starts to wonder what it did wrong? Will it ever be touched? Will your lips ever caress its luscious liquid?
Christopher Staten in his article Just drink it already! in the May/June 2014 issue of Draft Magazine captures this phenomenon perfectly. He says, “We all have a prized bottle maturing in the back of our fridge for a lofty occasion. But when will the moment come to drink it now?
Staten goes on to explain how psychology plays a major role in why we hesitate to pop open our stored treasure. “Dr. William Goldstein of the University of Chicago’s department of psychology believes it stems from a fear of “closing the account”—that is, when it’s gone, it’s gone. It seems the length in which we delay draining a bottle increasingly erodes our certainty of a special moment.”
Some beer geeks do intentionally age their bottles in a process called cellaring. Meant to improve the flavor profile of a high-gravity beer and often draw out hidden flavors or smooth out some of the rough alcoholic edges of a beer, cellaring is an art (not one I fear I’m apt to). The guys over at Guy Drinking Beer do it well. In a series called From the Cellar they choose a beer, taste it at its inception, and then store a various number of bottles for a various number of years. Bringing out that precious bottle on its anniversary and giving it another go while collecting their notes for our viewing pleasure along the way.
However, there’s a difference between cellaring and putting your beer in a cell.
I wish I could say I was good at cellaring. Unfortunately, I fall into fear-of-finding-that-precious-moment category. I stash bottles like a squirrel collecting nuts enviously waiting for that too perfect time to arrive.
I found myself in such a predicament last Sunday with two bottles of New Glarus. Now let’s be honest our brewing neighbors to the North present me with quite a dilemma. Available only in Wisconsin I have a limited window to purchasing my favorite brewery’s wares. Whenever I drive home, which at best is twice a year, I scour every gas station, pick through Packer-themed liquor stores (says the diehard Vikings fan), whatever the venue I always come home with at least one 12-pack variety case, a six pack of Spotted Cow, and 2 or 3 bigger bottles of New Glarus seasonal, specials, or one-offs. My particular favorites fall from their sour category.
I had two parked on my fridge shelf since the last time I’d gone home about 7 months ago over Memorial Day weekend—New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red and New Glarus Raspberry Tart.
New Glarus’ Wisconsin Belgian Red brewed with Montmorency Cherries boasts over a pound of Door County Cherries in each bottle, making it what New Glarus calls a “uniquely Wisconsin beer.” Unique indeed. Intensely sweet almost like the syrup-glazed cherries you’d find in a pie or jam, the puckering zing of this beer gets lost a little behind the sugar.
Touted as highly carbonated my glass fizzed at first but quickly dissipated. I began to question whether keeping this bottle in my fridge for 7 months had been a good idea. While I enjoyed the intense fruit flavor I was looking for some kind of acidic, tart balance and fizzy kick. Again, I think this was completely my fault.
New Glarus’ Raspberry Tart followed suit—-lusciously and deeply raspberry in flavor. Almost as if I was sucking on hard candy. I noted chords of honey, but again the predominant berry flavor struck throughout and without a tongue-puckering, zing-inducing squeeze to mellow out the saccharine flavor I found myself wanting more.
I’m all for cellaring if it’s done right, but I can’t help but wonder if either brew would have tasted better, fresher, crisper, a bit more carbonated and a little less sweet if I’d just popped the bottle right then and there. I guess we’ll never know. Hopefully, next time I pass through a Wisconsin gas station and I grab my seasonal selection of New Glarus hits I won’t wait another 7 months to enjoy them. I’ll uncork them right then and there in the next few minutes.