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DSC_0418A friend came to me and asked, “Have you tried this beer before?”

I looked at the bottle and replied, “Yeah, that’s Lean Lamb, a really nice sour beer from the Mus­sel Inn.”

Turns out they were return­ing it because they’d tried one and then dis­covered it was past its best before date. The unusu­al, but per­fectly nor­mal, sour taste, com­bined with a recent food-pois­on­ing scare, had put them right off, and no amount of explain­ing that these beers will keep would dis­suade them.

Unlike wine, beer is often seen as some­thing to drink soon after brew­ing. ‘Fresh is best’ is a slo­gan often thrown around. While this is true of lagers and ‘green­er’ hoppy beers, high-alco­hol malty beers (espe­cially dark­er beers like port­ers and imper­i­al stouts) can be aged for a very long time.

8 Wired’s imper­i­al stout Bumaye (a Muhammad Ali ref­er­ence) was brewed in 2011, bottled in 2013 and has a best before date of 2028. When I asked brew­er Søren Eriksen why he chose that year in par­tic­u­lar, he simply said, “That was the longest date I was leg­ally allowed to use.”

I cur­rently have a bottle of Bumaye along­side four bottles of Hallertau’s sour Funkon­nay, a spe­cial bottle of Gar­age Project’s bar­rel-aged Lord Cockswain’s Cour­age and some Pot Kettle Blacks from Yeast­ie Boys in my ‘cel­lar’. Well tech­nic­ally it’s a cup­board, but it’s a cool, dark place where the tem­per­at­ure is fairly stable.

Speak­ing of Yeast­ie Boys, head brew­er Stu McKin­lay is a known keep­er of beers, so I asked him a few questions:

What is in (or was recently in) your beer cellar?

Two types of beers — old Yeast­ie Boys stock that I want to keep a check on for qual­ity con­trol, and some of my favour­ite beers that I like to pull out when a friend visits.

So do you often drink beer from your cellar?

Almost every time a good friend comes around! One of my great fears is lying on my deathbed wish­ing I’d shared a cer­tain beer with a par­tic­u­lar friend (or just anyone!)

Where actu­ally is your cellar?

Under my house. It’s almost a prop­er cel­lar, though I’d describe it more as an under-house shed as it’s not as flash as I wish it was (and it is under the house rather than prop­erly under­ground — a good cel­lar should have a more stable tem­per­at­ure than we get down there).

In your opin­ion, which beers cel­lar best?

Gen­er­ally malt-focused high-alco­hol beers (e.g. bar­ley­wines, imper­i­al stouts) and/or beers with a decent amount of acid­ity (e.g. lambic, gueuze, Ber­liner weisse). Hop-for­ward beers, espe­cially those that are heav­ily dry-hopped, tend to suf­fer the most. There are cer­tainly excep­tions to these rules.

What’s your opin­ion on best before dates?

Some beers cer­tainly don’t need them, but they can be a use­ful tool as long as con­sumers are informed that the beer may well be per­fectly good (or even bet­ter) after that date comes up. I’ve drunk year-old bottles of Pot Kettle Black that were bet­ter than any­thing we had fresh.

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