The weekend was the fifth anniversary of, well, this thing. It was Sunday1 the 26th of September, 2010, when I first hit the ‘Publish’ button on anything here. I’ve since done so three hundred and forty times,2 for an overall rate of one post every five or six days — which just shows you the nonsense you can bury under an average. In truth, my activity here has fluctuated wildly, as has what you might call the mandate or mission. The initial intent was for this to be simply a backed-up and searchable version of the original, which itself was born about five years earlier when I scribbled the first-ever entry and transmogrified a blank notebook into a Beer Diary.3 On finally filling those pages and starting in on my second volume, five years and twenty-three days ago, I wanted to scan and upload its predecessor for safekeeping — and on account of the fact that you can’t grep dead trees.
What started as ‘Afterthoughts’ to that project quickly took over,4 though the Diaries still exist, gathering notes and bearing witness to my primary impressions of a beer or festival or whatnot. The revised and broadened nature of, well, this thing slowly found an audience and even picked up an award. But with a shift in my “day job” (to an actual day job), productivity here waned; the switch in what energy was used up during the day and what was left to burn off saw my swimming and gardening increase and writing time decline.5 I’m still attempting to rebalance all that again, with mixed success.
But anyway, I was put in mind of all of this — i.e., these five years and the utterly marvellous and/or baffling beers and occurrences and best-of-all people that have been bound up therein — by (of all things) a spot of spring cleaning a few days ago. In the kitchen cupboards at home was an unexpected trove of bottles that spanned such a swathe of time that I idly wondered if it covered the entirety of this thing’s existence and so had to look up the dates. And lo, here we are. And yes, they do. The Beer Diary started its life6 as a memory aid. Fitting, then, that a steady accumulation of forgotten things would furnish an excuse to think back, try to remember how these nearly-three-dozen bottles came to comprise my stash — and ponder what to do with them. Because some beers really do age spectacularly gracefully and can sublimely cap off an occasion. Others, of course, do not. Time, then, for a census of my accidental cellar, to see what it says about the last few years.
— Evidence that I am an absent-minded fool:
- Garage Project Pernicious Weed (best before 2 Feb 2014) and, um, [Something Unlabeled]. If Rule #1 of cellaring is that ‘light-bodied hoppy things don’t typically improve’,7 Rule #0 should be No Anonymous Bottles. These are doubtless staffies from my time at the Garage, and the latter could be basically anything and the former would’ve been brewed two years ago and has gone chunky. I’ll still try it, though…
- Wild Buck (best before June 2015). Boundary Road’s answer to Tui, and something they dress up in various drag so their tied pubs can pretend to have their own unique beers. A bland and caramelly brown lager which I got so I could ramble about origin-fudging and/or the weirdness that is New Zealand Draught. The beer will hardly suffer from being a few months past date; I’m more grumpy about the dozens of unfinished drafts I have on here.
- Emerson’s Pilsner (best before May 2015). Probably from a the prize pack after my team’s surprise win in last year’s Beer Options blind-tasting competition, which was excellent fun even if the prospect of defending our title terrifies me. A few of its siblings also seem to be in the cupboard, and probably belong there, but why save the pilsner?8
- Mussel Inn ‘Monkey Puzzle’ (bottled June 2013). From a thank-you parcel the Brewers’ Guild gave me for helping judge the 2013 Beer Writer award,9 and which specifically asks on the label to be had fresh. Sorry.
- Green Flash ‘Palate Wrecker’ (imported April 2013). Bought for a podcast two years ago, then promptly not included in the next episode. That said, I’m not usually a fan of superbig IPA. So I might have done myself a favour by breaking Rule #1. But probably not.
— Largely inconclusive evidence:
- Gigantic Pipewrench (imported April 2015). Bought after enjoying a taster, well, somewhere10 and with the intention of having a ramble about Boilermakers and gin. Which I’ve yet to do, but there’s still time.
- Hargreaves Hill Stout (age unclear, though the label doesn’t match their current website). This one rings no bells. Its origins in my cupboards are a mystery, and at around 6% it’s only a fifty-fifty shot for graceful ageing.
- BrewDog ‘Bitch Please’ (brewed 2010, best before March 2016). I had a fresh bottle of this in my Malthouse days, and hated it. I might as well have it on its official expiry date and see if it’s turned into something I’ll like — if they don’t pseudo-punk their way onto the Boycott List, meanwhile.
- Chimay ‘Cinq Cents’ (best before 2008) and Westmalle Tripel (bottled on my birthday in 2011). Two big Trappist tripels which are now seriously getting on in years and probably fine, even though they aren’t of the darker variety that usually hang out in cellars. Maybe for Christmas / New Year? Hopefully they’ll make for relatively summery occasion-toasting.
- Garage Project Summer Sommer (best before Aug 2015) and N’ice Chouffe (best before Sept 2015). Officially past date, but not by much and not the kinds of thing that’d seem worryingly fragile. To drink this Christmas for sure, since it’d be on-theme for each.
- Moa Rum Barrel Quad (2012 vintage). I probably bought this shortly before their IPO — my rant on which is this site’s most enduringly-popular post for people to visit, apparently — and their inclusion on (i.e., the creation of) my (mercifully-short) Boycott List. I guess I’ll have it when a) they finally front up to their past grossnesses, or b) their share price terminally tanks and they’re wound up. Here, I’m fairly certain the beer itself will be great. The question is just whether I ever get to drink it.
— Evidence that I am (if only subconsciously) very generous indeed to my future self:
- Emerson’s ‘Deafinition’ Imperial Porter & Barleywine (2012 vintage) plus Taieri George & ‘JP’ Saison x 2 (2014 vintage). The ‘Deafinition’ beers (big 750ml cork-and-cage affairs) date from around the Lion purchase, about which I was hugely skeptical but am now rather upbeat. If only all buyouts went similarly; I think I’ll have one on its upcoming third anniversary. The latter two varieties were likely with the aforementioned Pilsner but much more-promising candidates for a year or two tucked away. So at least they outnumbered that minor mistake. Richard Emerson himself is one of the genuine heroes of the local beer business, and a Grade-A good-beer evangelist. It’s been an absolute delight to have had a few occasions to spend time in his company.
- Yeastie Boys ‘His Majesty’ 2014, ‘Rex Attitude’ and ‘Red Rackham’ (both best before late 2012),11 and ‘xeRRex’ (from “Lot 1”). And so speaking of mensches in our midst, Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys was a key early booster of this project, became a Friend Of The Show, and is much missed since his relocation to the UK. Nice, though, to have some absolute classics with which to toast future successes and milestones in line with Stu’s “fresh is not best” mantra.
- Garage Project ‘Triple Day Of The Dead’ (bottled Oct 2014) and Umami Monster (unlabeled, but brewed for GABS in May 2014). Day of the Dead is my enduring favourite GP beer, and this was the first of their generous parting-gift allowance to me. November 1 is the obvious occasion to drink it, but I might skip this year and wait a few. My bottle of Umami Monster was an unlabelled staffie but I threw a handwritten neck-tag around it, perhaps embarrassed by the utterly anonymous one mentioned above. George has called dibs on sharing this one in an upcoming podcast, and since he invented the Beer Diary Podcast and without him there’d be no actual Beer Diary anyhow, he can out-dibs almost anyone. I’m keen to re-try it; when it was fresh it certainly freaked me out and broadened my horizons much like — CLUNKY METAPHOR ALERT — working in the brewery itself did. My massive thanks to Pete & Jos (et., increasingly, al.) for three excellent years.
- Bridge Road Aurora Borealis II (brewed sometime in 2013). Em can out-dibs anyone, and she is the single bestest difference between 2015 and 2010 — at least from where I’m sitting and if you ask me. Her I and shared a bottle of the original Aurora Borealis on an excellent holiday nearly three years ago, so perhaps we should have this on the anniversary of that. Or whenever else she likes, naturally.
- 2 Brothers ‘Guvnor’ and ‘Voodoo’ (best before “Never! Cellar It.” and “Your twilight years”, respectively, which is at least funny if not actually helpful). Fellow blogger Luke Robertson gave me these last year, and since we’ve had such fun doing a few ‘crossover’ podcast episodes,12 I should save them to share on our next, and perhaps throw in the Green Flash Rayon Vert (imported Oct 2013) I have as well — if memory serves it’s been retired from production, but this bottle should be ticking along nicely thanks to its little colony of Brettanomyces, the slow-acting funk-ifier and kindred microbe of procrastinators everywhere.
- Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2008 and Renaissance ‘Tribute’ 2011 both specifically encourage, via their labels, some time set aside and so will probably be perfectly happy waiting for an occasion for either (or both) to present itself. But neither goes as far as the De Molen Hemel & Aarde (brewed 2009) which boldly boasts it “will be good for 25 years”. Perhaps we’ll see about that. This bottle was a gift from my old friend Amelia,13 who nabbed it on seeing a blurb comparing it to the Russian Caravan tea of which I am so fond.
- Harviestoun ‘Ola Dubh’ 12 (bottled July 2011). A stout aged in the barrels of my much-loved Highland Park whisky. Just the thing for me to stash in the cupboard. Although, technically, this one doesn’t belong on the list anymore — because I drank it on Saturday, to mark the official anniversary. And it was splendid.
All this began from a poorly functioning memory, so discovering a small army of accumulated reminders and treats was a real delight. Ten-plus years of note-taking, and five of rambling online, have both breezed by and also managed to fill themselves with a richness and deep diversity and a motley cast of excellent people. My profound thanks to all of you who have, in your many different ways, made beer — an already-wonderful thing — even better.
- Probably technically very late Saturday on my own personal timescale.
- Well, three hundred and forty-one, now.
- Thanks, as always, to George for the gift that literally keeps on giving.
- My comrade Dylan is, after all, completely correct about the relative futility of “mere” beer reviews / tasting notes. I’d only ever defend mine by citing the fact they started simply as a personal memory-aid rather than ever being designed for public consumption.
- And if I’m honest — or at least honest-enough to declare something tangentially in a footnote — the award actually did weird things to my confidence in the opposite direction of what these things are supposed to do. Because brains can be jerks sometimes, I guess. On the flipside, but sometimes contributing to the same result, is the fact that writing was often ranting which was in turn often stress release. And the me of now is a considerably happily chap than the me of five (or ten) years ago. Which is, of course, excellent news.
- Or their lives, given the many physical incarnations and the varying uses to which they’ve been put here online.
- And while “improve” is always going to subjective, this might well be a good start.
- That said, I did drink it while writing up these notes. And it didn’t seem too much the worse for age. Which either shows that best-before dates are quite conservative, or that my palate isn’t great.
- Which also included a possibly-sarcastic bottle of something from Crafty Beggars (i.e., Lion), which wound up providing an excellent lesson in context.
- I should take better notes.
- The latter of which was a one-off mutant batch — perhaps pitched with the wrong yeast — of Hud-a-wa’, if memory serves.
- Here’s him on our show last year, and here’s us on his this year.
- Who, not incidentally, was the one who brought me my second Beer Diary, and so also helped precipitate this thing.