We asked a number of beer industry luminaries to share some of the most special beers in their own cellars, and to tell us why they chose those beers and on what occasion they’ll consider opening them. This is at once a terrific list of amazing beer you don’t have, but which at the same time will hopefully inspire you to start squirreling away your own collection of great beer. In no time at all, your beer cellar could be the envy of beer geeks everywhere.
Many brewers, as you might expect, keep a rotating selection of their own beers, just to see how they age. Adam Avery, for example, keeps a vast cellar of all his beer that’s 8% ABV and above as far back as 1998. He has hundreds of cases, and he uses them for vertical tastings as well as special events and fundraisers providing a special treat for the lucky few that attend those.
Likewise, Tomme Arthur keeps at least fifteen different vintage beers for sale in the tasting room of his Lost Abbey Brewery.
Boston Beer Co’s Jim Koch has saved some of the first bottles of Boston Lager from 1984 in his personal cellar, a reminder of “how far we’ve come since I first started brewing and bottling at home.” He also has some more drinkable old bottles of “Triple Bock, each release of Utopias, Millenium and a 10-year-old beer I made for my wife’s 40th birthday, which I named Cynthophrenia.” He likens it “own personal time machine. Just as we do at the brewery, I save a few bottles of certain brews to see how they change over the years.”
Others keep beers of various ages they try to open just when the time is right. For example, Fal Allen, from Anderson valley Brewing, keeps a selection of Rochefort beers, Westvleteran and other Belgians, along with some local sours and barley wines, which he uses both for comparison and when colleagues visit him at the brewery.
Matt Van Wyk found a wine cellar in the home he bought in Eugene, Oregon when he moved to begin brewing at Oakshire Brewing. He immediately converted it to a beer cellar and today it contains two of his own favorites; a 2002 Two Brothers Bare Trees Weiss Wine, where he worked early in his career, and a 2006 Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek he bought at the brewery in Brussels.
Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch likes to approach his beer cellar the same way he thinks is the “best way to approach life: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Thus, pick a beer to age, buy at least six bottles of it, and (nearly) religiously open one every 3-6 months. Thus, you can appreciate the beer’s aging progression. And, if at any point you decide that it’s peaked, pop open and enjoy the rest in a shorter timeframe.” Some of his favorites include a homebrewed Imperial Stout by Mikkel, before he started Mikkeller, an “Alternative Altbier,” a homebrew he brewed with business partner Steve Wagner in 1992, four years before they founded Stone, a Blind Pig 2nd Anniversary Ale, from around 1995, and Bottle #001 of the first barrel-aged AleSmith Speedway Stout.
Ithaca Beer Co.’s Jeff O’Neil recently opened a bottle Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek when a trio of brewers from Pennsylvania were visiting his brewery, one of which also brought a bottle of Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek after he’d interned at the Belgian brewery museum. Since O’Neil had saved the Drie Fonteinen for a long time, the opportunity to try the two Belgian cheery lambics side-by-side proved the perfect opportunity to open that beer. As he said of the experience, “they couldn’t have been more alike in spirit or more different in execution.” Similarly, Steve Parkes at the American Brewers Guild opened a 25-year old Thomas Hardy Barley Wine he’d been saving on his 50th birthday.
I’ll drink to that.