This holiday season will be a bit more festive at the Brick Store Pub with the opening of the Decatur beer bar’s new beer cellar.
The vintage program has taken years of planning and a substantial investment in rare and limited edition beers. But now, beer geeks can peruse a list of some 500 different offerings, with prices ranging from as little as $7 or $8 for a 12-ounce bottle of American craft beer up to $300 for a 6-liter bottle of Belgian ale.
The genesis of the project goes back to 2006, when Brick Store partners Dave Blanchard, Tom Moore and Mike Gallagher took a trip to Belgium that included a stop at the Kulminator beer bar in Antwerp, a place famous for its telephone book-size list that includes as many as 800 vintage beers.
“We realized that was the next frontier for what we’d been doing,” Blanchard said. “But the big question was, ‘Where in the world are we going to store that all that beer?’”
As it turned out, the answer was down in the alley behind the pub, where a heavy steel door leads to a winding stair and a series of underground caverns that were once part of a bank vault.
Blanchard and beer-buyer/manager Lee Dickson have been hoarding and aging hundreds of cases there. And the secret space has become a pilgrimage for visiting guests. One wall features scrawled notes from brewers, including Allagash’s Rob Tod, Dogfish Head’s Sam Caligione and Stone’s Steve Wagner.
Recently, Adam Avery of Colorado’s Avery Brewing marveled at the stockpiles of goodies.
“You need to start selling some of this and make some money,” Avery said.
The Brick Store is doing that now, after constructing a cellar room upstairs in the pub, just across the hallway from the cozy Belgian beer bar. The crafty build-out features a Gothic-style wooden door and floors and shelves hewn from vintage timber. But besides being a temperature-controlled showcase, it allows servers easy access to the beers on the cellar list.
So far, the demand for the cellar’s beers has been steady, but not overwhelming. And that’s good news, as they continue to refine the list and tweak the prices, Blanchard and Dickson said.
“We didn’t have any idea how this would go,” Blanchard said. “We didn’t know if we’d sell a lot or a little. We wondered if we were buying way too much or not nearly enough. Really, there was nobody around we could ask for advice.”
Armed with a smart phone, it’s easy for beer geeks to look up beer ratings on sites such as BeerAdvocate and RateBeer and check the prices for collectible beers on sites such as eBay.
Among the super limited edition brews on the cellar list, look for the likes of Yeti Imperial Stout and Old Ruffian Barley Wine from Great Divide Brewing Co., aged 20 months in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels and packaged in 750-milliliter bottles. Only 470 bottles of each beer were released in 2009. The current Brick Store price is $75 per bottle.
“We’re probably averaging about 10 or 12 cellar beers a day right now,” Blanchard said. “If that number gets any higher, we run the risk of running out of vintage beers faster than we can replenish them. So far, we haven’t had a rush on anything, which was my biggest fear.
“But as a game-changing endeavor, this is one of the biggest things we’ve ever done. And as more people come to discover what a rarity this is, who knows what will happen next. When we build up a couple more years, it will get really fun. We can offer five-, six- and seven-year vertical tastings of certain beers and find out how they age and change over time.”
— Bob Townsend, AJC beer columnist and blogger