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Build Your Own Beer Cellar With Expert Advice From Patrick Dawson

Patrick Dawson Vintage Beer Connoisseur Magazine

If, like mine, your basement is filled with bombers of specialty beer that you’re saving to drink, then I have two recommendations for you. The first is don’t save those bottles for special occasions, instead save them until they are ready to be drank.

You’ll know when these beers are ready via my second recommendation: read the book Vintage Beer, A Taster’s Guide to Brews That Improve Over Time written by my friend and beer writing colleague Patrick Dawson. It’s a 150-page science geek’s ode to aged beers —to what beer styles age best, how to brew a beer with aging in mind, tasting notes on aged beers, the best beer bars that serve aged beers, and how to build and maintain a beer cellar of your own.

Vintage Beer has been on the market for a year now, but just like the cellared beers it discusses, the book is well worth visiting, or revisiting, after some time has passed.

In the first chapter of Vintage Beer, Dawson spells out “the rules” of aging beers. The rules are flexible (so for example only age a beer that’s more than 8 percent ABV, unless it’s smoked or sour), but generally yield consistent results, he says. He explains that malt proteins and cloudy wheat proteins drop out of beers over time, causing them to be thinner. He warns that hop character and fruity ester character of beer fade over time, too. The list goes on, and so does Dawson. In the second chapter, the bulk of the book, he expounds upon the scientific processes that drive those rules of aging.

“Across the world right now, people are becoming obsessed with all things beer. As they get more and more into it, they’ll naturally look at the more advanced aspects in an effort to expand their horizons,” Dawson told me after the book published. “In my opinion, aging beer is the ultimate endeavor for these folks because there is a whole new world of flavors and aromas to be discovered. It’s so exciting, like discovering beer again, but this time you helped make it what it is. People take pride and ownership in beers they’ve cellared.”

Dawson definitely takes that pride and ownership in his personal beer cellar, which he thought was extensive until he started interviewing the likes of Tomme Arthur and Bill Sysak for Vintage Beer. “I chase the latest one-off rarities less and less, and focus on beers that have proven themselves reliable and are cost effective enough to buy in bulk,” Dawson said about his cellar. “Rodenbach Grand Cru, JW Lees, Expedition Stout, Samichlaus and whatnot. Off the top of my head, bottles that I’m excited about are some early 00’s Drie Fonteinen gueuzes and a 3-liter ’05 Double Bastard.”

While there are some beers ear-marked for verticals, Dawson tries not to relegate bottles to “special occasions” and instead opens them whenever he thinks they’re ready (that’s where I got the first piece of advice). “But there are certainly some that I’ll hold onto until a tasting so multiple people can try them,” he said.

My final recommendation (okay fine, I have three) is less than cost-effective, but if you’re a beer lover like myself or Patrick Dawson you probably won’t care. The advice is buy two bottles of every beer you want to cellar. The fact of the matter is that craft brewers don’t put beers on the market that aren’t ready, so enjoy one now in its freshest form, and then add that second bottle to your cellar. Follow Dawson’s rules of aging, and you won’t be disappointed.