Drink Craft Beer just posted a piece on their Five Rules to Rare Beer, and I want to provide a link since I think they are great guidelines for the discerning beer-hunter as well as comment on one item specifically.
The article was spurred by the author’s epic score of The Alchemist’s flag-ship double IPA Heady Topper during a trip to Vermont and the call from many on Twitter to hoard the beer:
When I returned from my trip I tweeted out a picture of my cooler full of Heady Topper, to which I got the expected envious responses. But there was a second type of response that surprised me a little bit, people who had cans of it but we’re holding on to them. My immediate reply to these people was, “Drink It Now!”
The author followed with five rules on acquiring rare beer, all of which I agree with heartily, even Rule #3 which garnered a bit of controversy on Reddit/r/beer:
Rule #3: Drink it now!
While there are some exceptions to this rule for the vast majority of cases the beer you’ve purchased was meant to be consumed right now…
The objections to the rule were based in the practice of cellaring beer to age, with many people saying something along the lines of, “But an Imperial Stout will get better in a year!” And while this is likely true, how would the beer-hunter who just scored a pricey bottle of stout know how much improved a beer they’ve never had will be in a year? Traditional wisdom says to buy (at least) two bottles: one to drink fresh and one for the cellar. This is a slippery slope though, and I feel like it is counter-productive to a typical craft beer fan.
If you even remotely consider craft beer a hobby – and if you’re reading a craft beer website chances are beer is more than a simple beverage to you – then you run the risk of falling into the collector’s trap. In my mind a craft beer fan should be far more interested in collecting experiences – the experiences of drinking a rare beer, of attending an amazing pairing dinner, or of sharing a special bottle with a dear friend – than they should be concerned about amassing a vast collection of superlative beers.
A quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas comes to mind (emphasis is mine):
The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Ballantine ale, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug-collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
A collection begets collecting; this is the slippery slope of the title. Once you have a couple of bottles stashed for a “special occasion” they begin to collect friends and soon a few bottles swells to a case and a case to a closet and a closet to a dedicated climate controlled hermetically sealed subterranean bunker. Okay, maybe not everyone will succumb to their collections on that level, but it is a risk.
Ironically our consumer culture has wired us to amass and hoard instead of simply consuming, and I would urge you to think about what you are more interested in having: a closet full of expensive and rare beers, or memories of drinking and sharing a wide variety of beers with your buddies. Every bottle in your cellar is a bottle of beer that you didn’t enjoy. Certainly don’t cellar a beer that you’ve never tried! What if a earthquake destroys your collection? You’ll never know if you liked that bottle of Sour Imperial Coffee Hopmonster.
Craft beer is experiencing a boom of historical proportions, and I worry about the implications this boom will have on the industry in a few years time. Maybe you remember the comic book industry crash of the early 90s? Limited editions, variant covers, and a focus on cross-marketing played to the spectator market and the industry collapsed under its own weight as people stopped reading comics and started looking at them like investments.
While I don’t think the craft brewers will start releasing their small-batch Imperial IPAs with variant labels any time soon, the hype that surrounds super-regional and extremely limited beer releases is getting out of hand. Just look at the fervor that surrounds the yearly release of Russian River’s Pliny the Younger! Additionally, the sheer volume of new and different beers that are flooding the market fuels the collector’s mentality. Even if you focused on a relatively small sub-set of brewers or beers there is no hope of trying everything out there. Don’t give in to an anxiety about letting that “perfect beer” slip-by untried. Relax and you’ll enjoy your brews more.
I fall into this trap too often, but I try to be mindful of it and know that it’s counterproductive. My goal as a beer geek is to elevate my knowledge and enjoyment of our favorite tipple, and I’m often at odds with myself over whether it is more effective to concentrate on current favorites or seek new and different beers. Every time you stash a bottle you are making an investment in your future enjoyment, and all investments are risky. I’m generally risk-averse and I like instant gratification so it makes more sense for me to “drink ‘em when I’ve got ‘em” than to try to amass an “impressive” collection.
Cellaring is a useful technique for learning about the effects of time and oxidation on beer, and while I don’t discourage you from keeping a cellar, I would caution you to evaluate why you are holding onto beer (and how much space and energy you’ve devoted to it).
The point of all of this is to urge you to be mindful of your beer-buying and beer-drinking habits, especially when it comes to the thrill of beer-hunting. I think that you will get more enjoyment out of focusing on the present and enjoying your spoils than stashing them away for a day that might never come.
What are your thoughts on “rare beers” and how to best enjoy them? What about the other four rules in the Drink Craft Beer post? Let’s hear about it in the comments!
- Source: Drink Craft Beer – Five Rules to Rare Beer