As I was surveying my recently flushed beer cellar I had a sudden moment of introspection. I realized I may enjoy having beers as a commodity nearly as mush as drinking them. In looking over the one-offs, limited releases and hard to find bottles, it suddenly struck me that I was deriving pleasure more from building a colourful stockpile than a reserve to drink from.
I will fully admit to having a collector’s streak; I come by it honestly from my dad. I love having things in a series from the most basic to the most extravagant. However, since most of the things I am interested in are incredibly expensive, this rarely extends beyond having a meticulously ordered set of eBay tabs open in my browser. Beer is different. With the average connoisseur bottle going for going for around $10, one can amass quite a collection rather quickly.
While I’m sure there are some self-professed beer collectors who are further along than me it is not a topic that I see discussed often. Sure, people talk about trading rare beers and having big cellars but, in most of what I’ve read, its always with a mind to drink. On the other hand, some collect beer vessels (special bottles, growlers, glasses etc.) which have little to do with the beer itself. This got me thinking, what would happen if beer collecting took off?
The most direct parallel might be whisky collecting which hit a boom period in the 2000s. Whisky, particularly scotch (and most particularly, old bottles from defunct Islay distilleries) became an investment collectible. Many tasters have blamed this for an increasing number of highly packaged special editions with a reduced focus on overall quality.
Part of what keeps beer out of such a scenario is its perishable nature. Your average 5%er has a shelf life measured in months, not decades which means its value as a drink is finite. However, more and more breweries are going the route of big number, cellar friendly beers. With many brews crossing into the 15%+ range, the possibility of reliably keeping a beer good for 20 years is becoming a reality.
I have commented elsewhere on what I see as a potentially troubling trend of barrel-aged everything. Brewers are definitely cashing in on exclusive, high dollar bottles even when it may not actually produce better beer (see my comparison of Wellington’s Imperial Stouts). I think the potential for even more extreme beers as regular offerings is there, and more worryingly the potential for irresponsibly made ones at that. After all, if no one is actually going to drink this one of 250 bottles, who care what it tastes like? Furthermore, a brewer could simply claim the beer is meant to age for 5-10 years and have it pass into obscurity once the bottles are sold out.
This may be more of an intellectual exercise than a legitimate concern, but it does touch on issues current craft consumers have to deal with. That said, if it does take off, I may have a head start on the rest of you.