For the last six years, the general manager at Library Alehouse in Santa Monica has been quietly building up a secret stash of beer. And not just any beer — rare beer. Like, really rare beer.
We’re talking hundreds of bottles of bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts from Nebraska, specially blended anniversary ales from the Central Coast and spontaneously fermented sours from Belgium that even at the time of their release (many before the modern craft beer revolution was fully underway) would have caused a drinker of a certain persuasion to wait in hours-long lines for the blessed chance to spend $30 or more on a glass container filled with 22 ounces of the stuff.
But now these beers, like the fine aged wines found at restaurants around the city, are the stuff of legend no more.
Unearthed once and for all due to an expiring lease on the restaurant’s temperature-controlled storage unit, the entirety of Library Ale House’s unusually large collection of very limited, very valuable beer bottles (think Fifty Fifty’s 2011 Eclipse aged in Bernheim Wheat barrels, $50) are now available for on-premise drinking.
And as if savoring dozens of vintage beers that may never exist on this Earth again isn’t enough, the bottles are all being sold at half-off their retail price.
“Much like Augustine Wine Bar [in Sherman Oaks] offering vintage wines by the glass at extremely reasonable prices, you will rarely, if ever, come across another opportunity to explore vintage beer in such depth at such reasonable prices,” says general manager Alex P. Davis, a certified cicerone (the equivalent of being a beer sommelier) and the man behind the unprecedented hoard. “It’s the perfect opportunity for a couple on a date or to split a couple of bottles of vintage beer they’ve likely never drunk before and never will again.”
Davis says he started building the collection at a time when most specialty and barrel-aged beers were not available on draft. Buying multiple cases, then, of releases like The Bruery’s 2011 Anniversary Ale (a 14.5 percent ABV old ale), Stone's 2012 Double Bastard (an 11 percent ABV American strong ale) and Firestone Walker’s 2013 Sucaba (a barleywine aged in spirit, wine and new oak barrels) made sense in order to offer the complex liquids year round.
Eventually, it also allowed him to create highly coveted flights of vertical tastings for customers, which were poured at events for which Library became known.
“Cellaring requires space — lots of it,” Davis says. “If you tuck away six bottles of the same beer year after year to build a vertical, the necessary space starts to add up. Do this with multiple beers and you’ve got a hoarding problem on your hands.”
Couple the hoarding factor with the increased availability of many of these beers in kegs and you have little need for a bottle collection like the one Davis has spent the last half-decade accumulating.
Consider the lack of a need for these bottles your gain. Starting a few weeks ago, Davis began selling off the entire storage unit’s worth of inventory, one bottle at a time, to drinkers and diners at the Main Street institution. So far, he’s uncorked close to 400 vintage bottles, to everyone from couples to solo drinkers to groups of friends who have come in to share the mostly large-format bottles of high-alcohol beers.
With a menu that changes out as bottles are purchased and new offerings are added, these sought-after rarities will soon be gone forever.
And for those who scoff at the idea of aging a beer? You’re only half-right.
“There is no doubt the vast majority of beer should be drunk as fresh as possible. Put simply, time is an enemy to most of what gets put out on the shelf,” Davis says. “As with most rules, however, there exist some exceptions. There are, in fact, some beers in the world that can benefit from extra time in the bottle under the right conditions.”
Now is the time to try some of those beers.