Beer Is For Keeping (Sometimes)

We are often reminded that beer is best consumed fresh. The national megabrewers make a big deal out of product freshness, and plenty of other beers are sold with "best-by" dates on the labels. It only takes a taste of a sour old bottle of ale or a stale, lifeless lager to reinforce the usually valid point that beer ain't for keeping. But at this time of year, when there are all these strong wintertime beers about, it's good to know that there are exceptions to the rule, from local sources and from farther away. I would be remiss not to recommend at least a few. Belgian Trappist beers that can stand the test of time include the likes of Chimay Grand Cru, Orval, and Rochefort 10. Dolle Brouwers Stille Nacht, Scaldis Noel (Bush Noel in Belgium), Val-Dieu Biere de Noel, and Du Pont's 'Avec les bons voeux' are Belgian-style winter seasonals that will be worth putting away until the holidays roll around next year. Those who can get past the funk and sourness that characterizes Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen lambic-based beers will have something to look forward to for years to come—these beers have impressive keeping and aging qualities. De Proef's Lozen Boer, imported by Seattle-based SBS-Imports, and Cuvee Mystique, also from De Proef, show good potential for keeping. Locally, those who made it to the Big Time Alehouse (4133 University Way N.E., 206-545-4509, in time had the good fortune to score a bottle of Old Wooly, which made its annual debut Dec. 1. (If you didn't, add the date to your tickler file for next year.) I have bottles of Old Wooly going back a few years, and the beer holds up pretty well, acquiring a bit of sherrylike quality as it ages. These examples just scratch the surface; check out good pubs, brewpubs, and specialist beer retailers and pick up a keeper beer or three.

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