10 Best Beer Investments For Your Cellar

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- No matter how much craft beer takes off or how many 22-ounce and 750-milliliter bottles of it show up in restaurants of note, beer's still considered wine's slack-jawed yokel cousin. 

Let's put this out there: Why is it naturally assumed that wherever wine is being drunk, people in linen pants are counting money and discussing offshore holdings and wherever beer is being drunk there's a large sporting event nearby or a game of cornhole just waiting to happen? For every 30-pack of Busch, there's a box of Franzia. For every $1 tallboy of Narragansett, there's a $5 bottle of Kendall Jackson. 

For every bro at a college beer pong table wearing a hat backward and yelling "woo!" there's a couple of empty-nesters knocking back samples at a nearby winery and celebrating their newfound independence just as loudly. 

Beer and wine aren't separated by much until you get to the cellar. The tannins and acids in the winemaking process help great vintages age well and become sought-after commodities valued in the thousands of dollars. While there are some beers served well by a bit of cellaring, almost none reach the age or the value of their vino contemporaries. 

That doesn't mean they never will, though. Craft beer lovers have spent the past few years experimenting with the cellaring process and have had success with barrel-aged varieties such as Dogfish Head's Burton Baton old ale/IPA hybrid and Green Flash's Belgian-style Le Freak as well as Belgian varieties that benefit from a bit of time in the cold. Combine that cellaring with some rare batches and blue-collar beer suddenly becomes a hot commodity. We took a look through the racks and found 10 beers that are not only rare finds, but hold their value for beer lovers looking to swap or sell: 

Kate The Great
Portsmouth Brewery
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Alcohol by volume: 12% 
There are a couple of common threads that run through the beers in this list: Many are Russian Imperial Stouts. Many have very limited production capacity and release windows that escalate demand. Many force normally sane people to stand in line for hours and bypass beers that are just as good (if not better) to claim their prize. 

Die-hards line up overnight on the streets of Portsmouth, N.H., each March and brave bone-chilling winds off the water for their glasses and bottles of this high-octane warmer. Though tough to resell, Kate The Great's real value is as a trading chip for some of the other beers on this list. 

Samuel Adams Utopias
Boston Beer ( SAM)
Style: American Strong Ale
Alcohol by volume: 27% 
Unlike most of the beers on this list, Samuel Adams Utopias is usually released every two years or so. Also unlike the other beers on this list that can be had in the low two figures, a copper kettle-shaped bottle of Utopias goes for $100 to $150 right off the bat. 

Batches of 15,000 bottles or less were released in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and last year. If buyers were hoping for a quick return on their investment for last year's vintage, Boston Beer founder Jim Koch just dashed it by announcing the release of a 10th Anniversary Utopias this fall. The new release was aged in single-use bourbon casks and spent time in port casks from Portugal and rum barrels from Nicaragua to add dark fruit, fig, chocolate, raisin and vanilla flavors. 

Is it worth high-end bourbon, port or even champagne prices? It all depends on how much a buyer wants the bottle long considered the Broly Grail of beer empties. 

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Goose Island Brewery/ Anheuser-Busch InBev ( BUD)
Style: Imperial Stout
Alcohol by volume: 14.5% 
How do you get people to pay $10 for a 12-ounce bottle of Anheuser-Busch beer? Take a stout, age it in bourbon barrels, limit it to one per customer and just watch the resale prices balloon to $80 for a four pack. 

It also helps to have A-B buy a longstanding Chicagoland craft brewery, as it did when it purchased Goose Island from its original owners and the Craft Brewers Alliance ( BREW) last year. Even without A-B's involvement, the demand for BCS borders on silly. Bottles of "Rare" Bourbon County Stout that spent two years aging in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels sold for $45 a pop in 2010, but the average Bourbon County offering is usually followed up by Coffee Stout and Bramble Rye versions in January. 

If that's not enough, BCS on the whole is about to get a lot more rare. A-B earlier this year footed the bill for a barrel warehouse that doubles Goose Island's capacity and may make Bourbon County Stout a year-round product in the near future. While we're not trained analysts here in the beer department, we have one bit of investment advice if you get your hands on some BCS this year: Sell, sell, sell!

The Abyss
Deschutes Brewery
Style: Imperial Stout
Alcohol by volume: 11% 
Elections? Thanksgiving? Amateur hour. If you're a beer lover, you're looking forward to November for only one reason: this beer. 

The normally reserved don't-call-it-retirement enclave of Bend, Ore., unleashes this dark force on the beer world each November as Deschutes releases it from its pinot noir and bourbon barrels and sends bottles home with a few fortunate souls. There are great hints of molasses and licorice in the first sip, but this is one beer that actively dissuades buyers from opening it immediately. The label explicitly states that Abyss is best enjoyed a year from its purchase date, which makes cellaring a must and only increases its resale value. Considering how tough it is for a true beer lover to part with a bottle, that cost can get pretty high in a hurry.  

Dark Lord
Three Floyds Brewing
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Alcohol by volume: 15% 
This is about more than the beer. Each year in April, Dark Lord Day floods Munster, Ind., with bands, beer lovers and bundles of cash. 

Folks looking to buy a bottle of Three Floyds' trademark imperial stout pay $15 just for a ticket that allows them to do so. If they're from out of town, they kick in another $110 to $150 a night for a hotel room. When they finally get to buy some original-recipe Dark Lord, Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord, Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord, Cognac Barrel Aged Dark Lord and Cognac Barrel Aged Dark Lord de Muerte, it costs them $50 per wax-sealed bottle. That's $65 to $215 by the time that Dark Lord finds its way to a cellar. 

Is it worth it? Given that the event's popularity has only increased since the 2004 vintage, there are a lot of dedicated drinkers who think so. 

Heady Topper
The Alchemist
Style: Imperial IPA
Alcohol by volume: 8% 
It's only found in cans, it's only found in and around Vermont and there's no guarantee it's going to age well. 

All that said, if you have your hands on some of the very limited supply of Heady Topper, feel fortunate. The Alchemist's brewpub and brewing operations in Waterbury, Vt., were wiped out last year by Hurricane Irene. While its owners have recovered and opened a 15-barrel brewery and cannery, they focus all their efforts on Heady Topper and only make so much of it during the year. Batches sell out early and often and expansion is still in its early stages. That rarity and the extremely sweet, citrusy flavor so rare in IPAs this strong - never mind this far east - makes it a coveted prize in the beer community and perhaps the most valued can of beer in the world. 

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing
Style: Imperial Stout
Alcohol by volume: 10.6%
In Michigan, September means breakfast stout season. Founders is more than happy to provide its four packs of original Breakfast Stout in high supply, but it gets just a bit more complicated when it comes to releasing the rich chocolate, coffee and maple-flavored Canadian Breakfast Stout in October. 

Founders has been expanding over the past couple of years, and while production has increased in 2012, it wasn't expanded in time for the CBS brewing process. This means this year's CBS was brewed in the smaller batches the old brewhouse could handle and that it'll be just as rare this year as last year. The other problem is that Michigan gets 21% of all CBS produced and no other state gets more than 12%. When you work through distributors, this means that the 750-ml bottles that sell in the tap room for $18 go for upward of $30 to $50 in stores across the country. Founders admits that's blatant gouging, but it loses control of pricing once those beers leave the brewery. 

The good news is that CBS fans only have to wait another year for ample supplies of their favorite stout. The bad news? Unless buyers want to upgrade to the even more rare Kentucky Bourbon Stout, they should sell this year's vintage before the weather warms again. 

Pliny The Younger
Russian River Brewing
Style: Imperial IPA
Alcohol by volume: 10.5% 
Is a beer really "rare"  if it's on tap at the brewery's tap room? That's the problem Russian River's outstanding Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA faced this year when its title of Hipster Beer Of Choice was called into question by sheer availability. 

Pliny The Younger, however, is another story. This borderline triple IPA is brewed with three times the hops of a normal IPA and packed with enough hop-and-citrus bitterness to make your lips pucker out the back of your head. Unlike its Elder, though, Pliny The Younger is available for only two weeks in February and only in limited distribution around California. It's valuable, but only if you can find a place willing to give you a growler or mason jar full of it. Even without resale, it's one of the better investments a beer fan can make. 

Westvleteren 12
Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus
Style: Quadrupel
Alcohol by volume: 10.2% 
The story of the monks of St. Sixtus is well-worn in beer circles, but still somewhat incredible to the outside world. 

These Belgian Trappist monks brew just 66,000 cases of Westvleteren 12, 8 and 6 a year to cover the costs of maintaining their abbey. The beer is sold 36 times a year and you have to make the journey to their abbey to get it. It goes for $33 a case and limited to two cases per carload, but gets a lot more costly once it returns to the U.S. Though the monks state explicitly on their receipts the beer isn't for resale, a small unlabeled bottle of the fruity, caramely concoction can fetch $8 to $15. 

Beer geeks still battle over whether this brew is overhyped or even preferable to the far more prevalent quadrupel brewed by the Trappists at Brasserie De Rochefort. Still, the effort required to get a Westvleteren 12 and its standing in the beer community makes it easily the best investment in the beer world. 

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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