Vintage Beer: A Taster’s Guide to Brews that Improve Over Time

"I’m a homebrew fanatic,” says Patrick Dawson, the author of the book Vintage Beer, which was released today.

Emily Hutto Mar 11, 2014 - 6 min read

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“I started back when I was 18, once I realized I could just make beer rather than get a fake ID. And it was through homebrewing that I first learned how much age affected beer—I could make cellar-able beers and experiment with all sorts of things to see what kind of effect this had on them years later.”

Dawson is fascinated by how much a beer can change over time—so fascinated, in fact, that he’s begun doing experiments with and researching aged beer as a career. Vintage Beer is a testament to his vast knowledge about building and managing a beer cellar. Dawson is also a certified BJCP judge and a brewpub reviewer for the North Denver Tribune.

We picked Dawson’s brain with some questions about his personal beer cellar and the book:

Craft Beer & Brewing: We’ve read that your personal beer cellar has 300 beers at any given time. Give us a sampling of what’s in there.

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Patrick Dawson: I used to think [my cellar] was extensive until I started interviewing people for the book. My cellar took a massive hit when I was writing the book, especially in the vertical department. All my Thomas Hardy’s are gone except for some 2008s. I was plowing through them to expand my knowledge base further.

My cellar is beginning to build back up, but I’ve found over time it’s gotten less flashy. I chase the latest one-off rarities less and less and focus on beers that have proven themselves reliable and are cost effective enough to buy in bulk. Rodenbach Grand Cru, JW Lees, Bell’s Expedition Stout, Samichlaus, and what not. Off the top of my head, bottles that I’m excited about are some early 2000s Drie Fonteinen gueuzes and a 3-liter 2005 Stone Brewing Double Bastard.

CB&B: How did you decide to write Vintage Beer?

PD: I was so fascinated with how much a beer could change—and for the better. I’ve always loved sherry and port but had no idea you could get similar flavors from beer. [Aging beers] went against everything I thought I knew at the time and led me to try to age all sorts of beers, the vast majority of which had no business being cellared. After a few years of mostly painful results, I began researching some of the science behind aging to be able to better choose which beers to age. This research then led to writing the book to help others avoid the same mistakes that I made.

CB&B: And how did you pitch the book to publishers?

PD: In my opinion, aging beer is the ultimate endeavor because there is a whole new world of flavors and aromas to be discovered. It’s so exciting, like discovering beer again, but this time you helped make it what it is. People take pride and ownership in beers they’ve cellared.

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CB&B: What breweries did you visit while you were writing your book?

PD: It seems like too many to count. Breweries that come to mind that really helped are The Lost Abbey, Russian River Brewing, Anchorage Brewing Company, Hair of the Dog, Cigar City Brewing, New Belgium Brewing, Crooked Stave, Firestone Walker Brewing, Drie Fonteinen, and Cantillon. Now that I think about it, I guess it was a pretty expensive book to write.

CB&B: Who in the beer industry inspires you?

PD: All the authentic lambic brewers of Belgium inspire me. They fought so hard to sustain a style of beer, which anymore, most of their countrymen loathe. They did this because of their love and belief in it, not for money or recognition. If not for the DeBelders, Van Roys, Girardins, and the like, we would not have the American sour/wild beer scene we have today.

On the American side, I think I’m most inspired by the work that Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson and Jim Crooks are doing. Nobody is doing vintage beer like they are—not to mention the scale they’re doing it on. Most people don’t realize, but beers like Parabola, §ucaba, and their Anniversary beers are actually vintage beers.

CB&B: Where do we find the book? Where do we find you on tour?

PD: The book release party is March 13 at Crooked Stave in Denver from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. [The owner] Chad Yakobson did the technical editing on the book, so it’s great to be able to celebrate it with him. I’m just now booking various promo events, and they’ll be posted on my website. Right now I’m super stoked about the Hair of the Dog Vintage beer dinner I’m co-hosting in Portland, Oregon, later this month.

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