I have a beer cellar. Right now there are probably 300 or so bottles down there. Most are beers that will age well, often for quite a few years. In some cases they are beers that are released once a year and so if I want to have them on hand later I need to stock up in the few weeks or even, just few days when they are on the shelves. But especially of late, when I have not been able to enjoy a carefully selected bottle as often as I would like, walking past all those bottles has gotten me thinking. Why do I keep so many? Especially when I go through a box and stumble across a bottle only to realize I had no recollection of buying it, it has all gotten me to thinking why I have so much beer in my basement?
There is a great scene in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when Lawrence (Michael Cain) is extolling the virtues of his sophisticated life in a not so subtle effort to dissuade Freddie (Steve Martin) from becoming his pupil in grifting. He shows Freddie his artwork, his home and his formal gardens but it is his description of his vast wine cellar (watch here) that sticks out in my mind. As he shows Freddie row after row of ancient and fantastic vintage Freddie asks when he drinks it. Lawrence replies, “You can’t drink them, they are far too valuable.” This prompts Freddie to ask, “So you sell them?” “Oh no,” replies Lawrence, “I’d never sell them, they mean too much to me.”
Do you have beer in your cellar like that? One or more precious bottles that you would never part with yet at the same time cannot find the heart to actually drink? What is it about those bottles? What is the matter with us? We know we are dealing with something that is inherently perishable, something that will eventually diminish in quality and character until at last one day it becomes undrinkable. Yet still we hold onto them? Why? What drives us to cling to our bottles for such long periods of time?
Well in some cases there is no doubt that cellaring a bottle for a year, or five, or even a few more, will definitely enhance its quality when we finally get around to cracking it open. For example I never touch Dogfish Head 120 Minute that is less than 3 years old. Flying Mouflan is way better after a year or two. Some beers from DeMolen state on the label that they can be cellared for up to 25 years. Another reason is to accumulate a number of years of the same beer. Being able to sample a vertical tasting can offer enormous enjoyment and education.
Yet there are bottles I just never seem to get around to drinking, no matter how long I have owned them. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I feel I never have quite enough reason to justify opening such a treasure. On occasion, I have finally opened some long treasured bottle only to find that I waited a year or two too long, which only magnifies the question of why do we feel so compelled to hold on to something that is meant to be enjoyed?
Is there some impulse we have to amass that keeps us from consuming? Do we gain some sort of pleasure some simply looking at them and marveling at our triumph? Is it a matter of ego, so that we can say to our friends, “You know I have a bottle of Dark Lord or Westy 12 in my cellar” and then sit back and enjoy the look of amazement that comes across their faces? It’s an innocent enough perversion I suppose, when being able to own the beer becomes more important that actually drinking it. The problem is that sometimes our desire to want to keep saying that actually keeps us from enjoy the very beer that is supposed to be so darn great in the first place.
Which calls another movie to mind. In Sideways, Miles tells Maya that he has a 61 Cheval Blanc (which obviously must be some sort of rare and awesome vintage). Maya tells him that those bottles are peaking now and that he should drink it soon. Miles offers the excuse that he is waiting for a special occasion, to which Maya replies, “You know, the day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc … that’s the special occasion.”
Maybe there’s a lesson here for all of us. Perhaps we need to stop hoarding or waiting for that special occasion that may never come and instead remember why we first started carefully collecting and storing all those bottles in the first place. Maybe we should go ahead, muster up our courage and crack open our most prized possessions so that they might then take an ordinary evening and make it truly special.