OPINION: Hiding away in a musty, dark corner of my basement are several boxes.
They sit mostly undisturbed, covered with dust.
Full of alcohol, it's only some serious self-control that keeps them in this preserved state.
Inside is mostly wine. Yes, wine not beer.
Collecting and cellaring wine has been a hobby for the past five years or so, ever since my time in Central Otago imprinted an appreciation of deep, earthy reds.
Buying some of your favourite bottles and sticking them away for a few years to see how they develop is great fun. It's also fantastic to finally pop one open on a special occasion, a reward for all that patience.
But it's not only wine that you can hide away and appreciate later on.
Since becoming more interested in beer, I've started putting away some bottles that I hope will get better as the months go by.
Like wine, you can't just chuck any old beer in a box and expect it to taste like ambrosia in a year's time. Don't expect Tasman Bitter to turn into this just by ignoring it.
Most beers are best consumed soon after bottling, and definitely within six months, although many will still taste OK after this - hell, this one was apparently even drinkable after 200 years under the sea.
So when it comes to selecting some beers to kick off your epic cellar, there are generally two rules of thumb for ones that age well. Darker beers, and beers that are high in alcohol (one possible style that does not fit these rules is perhaps sour beers, which can change rather interestingly over time).
The higher alcohol will mellow with age, as will the darker malts often leaving you with a much changed, yet still highly enjoyable beer.
Bottles to avoid adding to your collection are ones that revolve around hops. If you're a hop fiend who won't drink a beer unless it stings your teeth, then forget about storing them.
Hops will fade with age, and fade quick so hop-heavy style beers are best drunk fresh. There's a reason you only see fresh hop beers celebrated at a particular time of the year.
Once you've selected your beers it's all fairly simple. You need a dark, cool place preferably free of massive temperature fluctuations.
Store the bottles upright, and if you can afford it buy at least two or more of each bottle you intend to cellar. Try one on purchase day, and write down (or be really geeky and use this site) what it is like so you can compare when it comes time to open the next one.
If you're super rich, why not buy a case or two and open one every few months? Perhaps you could buy the same beer every year, then hold a vertical tasting for friends in a few years' time? Or even better, throw a party like this guy and invite me.
To help you out with some ideas, here's a few of the bottles I've currently got sitting in my basement. To assist you even further, I've asked Regional Wine & Spirit's beer specialist Kieran Haslett-Moore to actually provide some expert recommendations rather than my whimsical, "oh that label looks cool", list.
So go on, don't be shy. Be like a wine snob and cellar away!
Ballast Point Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter
Renaissance Tribute Barleywine 2012
Emerson's Deafinition Barleywine
Moa St Joseph's Tripel
Moon Dog Jumping the Shark Cognac Barrel-aged Truffled Imperial Stout
Epic Coffee & Fig Stout 2013
8 Wired Bumaye Pinot Barrel-aged Imperial Stout
Unibroue Seigneuriale Belgian Strong Ale
Cameron's Obsidian Rum Barrel-aged Imperial Porter
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot - Hugely hoppy and fat when young, cellaring allows the hop character to mellow and the malt complexity to shine though.
Courage Imperial Russian Stout - The classic RIS now being produced again after a couple of decades in retirement. Rich, bitter and roasty when young, cellaring allows burnt raisin notes to show through creating a sherry and fruit cake effect.
Fullers Vintage Ale - Based on Fullers Golden Pride pale barley wine, Vintage Ale is bottle conditioned making it a better candidate for cellaring. The rich malt loaf and orange marmalade notes in the beer meld and complex cognac notes develop.
Chimay Blue - Peppery and malty when young, cellaring promotes the development of the same aldehydes that occur in Port Wine making the beer fruitier, and more complex.
Renaissance Tribute - A big rich behemoth of a barleywine that frankly is just too much when it's young. However aging has taken the youthful, slightly uncouth exuberance and refined it into something rich and complex striking a great balance between marmalade yeast character and enveloping layered malt.
What special brews do you have in your cellar?
- © Fairfax NZ News