As the craft beer movement has taken hold across the country over the past few years, there has been no shortage of ways in which it’s come to resemble the world of wine—food pairing has become a big deal; descriptors of flavors and aromas are outrageously nebulous and esoteric; prices of single bottles are fast climbing to heights no one would have predicted years ago.
Perhaps most notable among those similarities, though, is the growing prominence of aging or cellaring beers: storing them in, ideally, a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment for a year or two, or even five or more years, so that flavors can fully develop. Not all beers are candidates for aging; more robust styles like stouts, barleywines, sours, and stronger Belgians tend to do well, while more hop-forward IPAs begin to fall off in a month, let alone multiple years.
Starting a beer cellar can seem like a daunting and potentially expensive undertaking, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of perfectly accessible beers that’ll help form the beginnings of a very respectable collection, and if you’d like to focus on locally made beers to start, there’s no better place to look than Brooklyn Brewery. Below, five of their sturdiest, most complex beers–together, the perfect foundation for your brand new beer cellar.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
If you were looking to get into cellaring and you wanted to invest in just one beer, lots of people would recommend Sierra Nevada’s much loved Bigfoot Barleywine, but for me it’s all about Brooklyn Black Chocolate, a 10% ABV stout that’s heavy on dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Fresh, you taste every bit of the 10%, but with some age on it, it basically just starts to taste more and more like chocolate syrup. It’s as silky smooth as any beer on the market, and a 4-pack will only set you back $10. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some that’s been aged for you–this beer has a tendency to sit on store shelves for far longer than it should. I bought some the other day, and I was pleased to find that my 4-pack had two bottles from the winter of 2013 and two from the winter of 2011.
Brooklyn Monster Ale
So, yes, technically this beer has been discontinued for just over a year, but if you poke around the city’s less cared-for bodegas and beer distributors, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come across some of it. A 10.1% ABV British-style barleywine, Monster starts our bright, fruity, and hot but eventually turns into a wonderfully complex mix of caramel and dark fruits.
Brooklyn Wild Streak
A first for Brooklyn Brewery, Wild Streak is a bourbon barrel-aged ale that was brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain that, in time, adds sour notes. I split a bottle of Wild Streak with someone right when it first came out, and it basically tasted like cream soda (bourbon barrels add hints of vanilla) with a slight fruitiness. But if you’re willing to let this one sit for a while, the brett should take over and do some really interesting things.
Brooklyn Local 1
A Belgian Strong Pale Ale, Brooklyn’s Local 1 is one of the most widely available good beers in all of the city, a beer whose ubiquity makes it easy to ignore. You shouldn’t, though: it’s a stellar example of the style (think a slightly more aggressive saison) that seems to hold up very well with a bit of age on it. And again, it’ll only set you back $10, so there’s no reason you should ever not have one on hand.
Brooklyn Cuvee Noire
Technically characterized as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Cuvee Noire is essentially a stout made with Belgian yeast and aged with orange peel in bourbon barrels. It’s also bottle-conditioned, which gives it an intense and enjoyable mouthfeel, its tiny, densely packed bubbles moving things along very quickly. It’s hard to say how exactly this one will age, but the somewhat present 10.6% ABV should begin to mellow out, allowing the slightly funky belgian yeasts and sweet fruits to take center stage.
Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.