05 March 2010

The Session: The Display Shelf -- When to Drink the Good Stuff

The Session is here again. I've been a bit remiss with my blogging lately, but this is a topic that inspires at least a simple response.

My journey to a full-fledged beer enthusiast has gone from having a preference for full flavored beers -- to homebrewer -- to craft beer drinker -- to beer traveler -- to beer collector -- to beer blogger. Over the past few years, I have purchased or been gifted numerous bottles of beers that I subsequently cellared and designated as “to be opened on a special occasion.” My dilemma, however, is matching an occasion with opening a particular bottle in my collection.

Not unlike collectors of other sorts, my behavior has transitioned from exploring diverse offerings to being more acquisitive in manner. Easy fix, right? Pull something out and drink it. But for example, after I enjoyed the complexities of a 750mL bottle of Victory Golden Monkey aged four years, I somehow find it harder to justify opening unique bottles in my collection that I have personally aged. Would it have been even better after five years? What about some of my other friends that did not get to share in the experience?
 Yeah. Now, personally, I've long been in the kind of financial situation that forbids the kind of mass-purchase of rare stuff that leads to this problem being prevalent. No cases of Eccentric Ale or bottles of Dark Lord or Westy 12 in my cellar -- I'm limited to a few singles of last year's Expedition and Third Coast Old Ale, and a bottle of Vertical Epic 08 and maybe a handful of others. I'm much more likely to hang on to bottles of stuff that isn't necessarily rare or specialty, but which for whatever reason I've found it hard to get ahold of: my bottle of St Bernadus Abt 12 in the garage is one example, and the two bottles of Yuengling Lager (of all things!) collecting dust in the cellar is another.

So... when do you drink these bottles? There's always a temptation to wait until that oh-so-perfect opportunity for a great beer, to find that moment and setting that matches the beer perfectly... and yet, in my experience, such waiting is usually for nought. To paraphrase Sideways, the day you open an Old Guardian Barleywine is a special occasion all by itself.

Which is why I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and open the bottle of Founders Nemesis 2009 which I bought just this afternoon and write it up right now. It's far from a perfect drinking environment; my girlfriend is watching a DVR-ed episode of The Mentalist on the TV while I listen to music on headphones. I've just had dinner, which could impact my palate, although I had some water to clean the tongue, and I'm basically just sitting in the corner of my basement by myself. But my guess is that opening a great bottle will be worth it, even if this is likely my only chance to try the beer.

Founders Nemesis 2009 (bottle)
Grand Rapids, MI
12.0% ABV

Immediately after the pour.
Pours into my New Holland pint glass hazy brown/red with no head at all. Swirling around in the glass gives a tiny bit of soapscum, but nothing significant. Some chill haze in the glass. Considering the ABV, this is pretty much as-expected.

Smells strongly of wheat malt, crisp and clean, with a slight grainy quality. Significant alcohol astringency, hints of hops buried deep. Taste is amazing, rich deep notes of malted wheat with hints of spicy undertones. The alcohol really starts to burn as the beer warms. Mouthfeel is thick, with a significant carbonation that stings the tongue.

Overall this is a very drinkable beer, a very good example of the style, but not really worth the effort people have been putting into obtaining it. It's a nice wheatwine (and, perhaps undercutting my thesis, it could probably stand a bit of aging), but is it really better than, say, New Holland's Pilgrim's Dole, which is made in much larger batches and more readily available? I understand why it makes sense for a brewery to release a beer with this kind of fanfare, but must we beer geeks follow blindly the siren call? So often rare beers of this kind really just turn into a kind of dick-swinging contest, a "too bad you didn't manage to swing a bottle of Nemesis this year," kind of thing. Great beer should be about the love of the craft and the joy of sharing, not these kinds of games.

So how do I feel about the Good Stuff? Drink it when you damn well feel like. A special occasion will be special even with only decent beer, and a day you open something great is a special occasion in itself.

1 comment:

SirRon @ The Ferm said...

Great post. I know it was a Session post, but I prefer reading tasting notes that begin with a little back story of some sort.

Thanks for participating in this month's Session!