After being into craft beer for a few years, or a few days, folks often eventually want to age beer. When I decided to start cellaring beer I wasn’t sure what beer to start with. I felt like everything worth cellaring was rare or only sold in Belgium or California. Later I realized, thanks to Josh’s post about Tips on Cellaring Beer, that there were lots of “shelf” beers available to cellar. That is why I’ve decided to share a recent experience with everyone. The experience of a food and beer pairing featuring a 17 year Sierra Nevada Bigfoot vertical.
Today I’m checking out Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson “A Taster’s Guide to Brews that Improve over Time.” I saw this book reviewed by another site and thought it must be a joke. An entire book about aging beer, really? Seems quite a bit of overkill. A few blog posts or a big pamphlet maybe but not an entire book.
I’ve wanted to write a post on cellaring for too long now, so long in fact that others have covered it better. So go back to last year and read Josh’s post on Tips for Cellaring Beer, he did an excellent job on the where and the what of aging beer. Josh covered most of the stuff I initially wanted to talk about, so to achieve my goal of writing a post on cellaring and not retreading old territory I’m going to talk about how to keep track of your cellar. You may think it’s not that hard, but some people just shove bottles in box after box and have no idea what’s in them (coughBrentcough).
Personally, I didn’t want to do that and wanted to display them so I built some shelving and can easily see what’s there… if I’m standing in front of them. If I’m not standing in front of them, I need some way to know what’s there, which is where the whole point of tracking them online comes in.
Also having an online system to track your cellar makes it easier to arrange trades by just being able to show other folks everything you have.
I want it all and I want it now
Going into writing this post I decided to set out what I most wanted out of a cellar tracking system:
- Smartphone App
- Web Interface
- UPC bar code scanning from a smartphone
- Social media integration and updating
- Untappd/BeerAdvocate/RateBeer integration
I realized that some of these things would be asking a lot but if you’re going to make a list of demands you might as well shoot big and go for a helmet full of cottage cheese and pictures of Bea Arthur naked.
The best around
Turning to social media, I asked people what system they liked to use to track their cellars, and the responses were split between The Beer Cellar and CellarHQ with a few people preferring good old-fashioned spreadsheets. I took a swing at all three systems and recreated my cellar in all of them, here’s the results:
The Beer Cellar
The website The Beer Cellar is better known by its URL BeerCellar.me. This is the newest kid on the block but has some innovative features not seen elsewhere. The big to-do on this site that sets it apart is that you can set a flag on all your beers to mark if they are for trade (FT) or if you’re in search of (ISO) more. This is a pretty essential feature for beer traders. Instead of having to write a big post listing the one or two beers you are ISO and the 50 some you have FT you can just share a link to The Beer Cellar.
As far as my list of demands go there is no smartphone app, but there is a mobile optimized version of the page. They do include the ability to import or export your cellar as a spreadsheet which is handy for backups. Integration wise clicking the name of the beer will take you straight to the BeerAdvocate site for the beer if one exists. I talked to the developer of the site some, and he said social media integration is on his to-do list but isn’t currently a reality.
CellarHQ.com seems the most popular system based on the Twitter and Facebook feedback I got. CellarHQ has been around longer than The Beer Cellar and seems to have a larger fan base. This site isn’t as pretty as The Beer Cellar, but I consider that a good thing as it’s a simpler and more compact design. One big difference between the two sites is that this one has some social media integration. You can use your Twitter account to log into it, and you can tweet when you add something to your cellar (like below) or just tweet a link to your entire cellar.
CellarHQ may not have a flag for FT/ISO, but you can add a note that leaves a red triangle on the line, you could quickly leave FT or ISO in this and achieve the same result. To be fair The Beer Cellar has notes as well, but no cool hovering action. Also, like The Beer Cellar it’s got easy importing but unlike The Beer Cellar, there is no export option at all. You could highlight, copy, and paste everything into Google Docs, but that kind of sucks.
Spreadsheets are ye olde standby of the cellar inventory tracking world with Excel falling out of favor to the online and easily shared Google Docs. The upsides here are that they’re simple, very easy to use, and extremely customizable. Want to keep track of the store you bought it from or who you traded with for the bottle? Easy, just add another column. The other excellent thing going for this is an extremely simple and clean interface. No red triangles, or flag buttons, or anything like that. Just rows and columns. Sadly that’s where the upsides end. Spreadsheets are not “smart” in any way and lack any automatic social media or RateBeer/Beer Advocate integration.
Sadly no system I found contained my wish of a bar code scanner for entering beers. It’s troublesome to do because the SKU for KBS 2011 is likely the same as KBS 2013. Someone would also need to build an extensive database of SKUs first or have the users create it as things go along. Unrelated to features or usage The Beer Cellar has shown much better responses on Twitter and to emails, I’ve received no response from CellarHQ in writing this post. To me that shows The Beer Cellar has a stronger commitment to supporting its users. After trying these different methods, I think it mostly comes down to preference. My preference is to stick with CellarHQ because I like the cleaner interface and the Twitter integration though that is coming to The Beer Cellar soon. So what’s your preference? Or what system do you use that I failed to mention?