The best sellers and the best cellars

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You need somebody to watch your back, Keith Kelleher is the man. I’d trust this guy to hold my last paycheck.

Kelleher is the kind of man who can look temptation straight in the face and turn away without a second thought.

If Satan offered him the proverbial apple in the Garden of Eden, we’d still be walking around in fig leaves. Kelleher has so much willpower, he can eat just one Lay’s potato chip.

How do I know this?

Because last weekend he showed up at Sugar Mom’s Lounge (225 Church St., Old City) with a sixpack of beer he’s been saving for seven years.

It was Anchor Brewing’s Our Special Ale, the annual holiday beer produced by the San Francisco brewery since 1975. The sixpack has been sitting untouched in his West Philly basement since 1993, when Kelleher began collecting the distinctively spiced ale.

“I still remember my first Anchor Steam – it was at Mother’s in New Hope, in 1982,” Kelleher told me. “When I read this article in Barleycorn [the defunct brewpaper] about cellaring beer, I thought it would be fun to collect beers from each Anchor vintage. “

For most beer drinkers, an unopened sixpack is like the neighborhood flirt. In cruder circles, we’d call it a bock tease.

But Kelleher remains a master of his own domain. For him, as with other beer aficionados, collecting beer is a tasty hobby.

When beer is bottled with live yeast (a process known as bottle-conditioning), it continues to ferment slightly for years. Strong flavors and hop bitterness tend to mellow into a smoother taste.

Or the beer can just turn bad, like wine into vinegar.

So tasting beers that have been cellared for years can be a chancy step into the twilight zone – especially when you’re sampling a beer that was bottled about the time the Phillies last played in the World Series.

“That’s why I love to share beers with other people,” Kelleher said. “It’s fun. Everybody tastes something different. “

About 10 malt lovers, led by Jim Anderson of Beer Philadelphia, poured through seven years worth of bottles. Each year’s version of Our Special Ale is a different, secret recipe, which leads to unending debate among beer freaks. Those with fine-tuned palates can detect a range of flavors, including nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate and even coconut.

Homesweet Homebrew operator George Hummel, whose schnozz is above reproach, said he detected a cardboard taste in the oldest bottle – a sign that oxygen had infiltrated the bottle.

Brian O’Reilly, head brewer at New Road Brewhouse (36 W. Third Ave., Collegeville), tasted mint and spruce in the 2000 version.

For Joe Sixpack, still suffering the numbing effects of a lousy cold, the dominant aroma was Vicks Vapor Rub. Otherwise, many of the spices had weakened, and the remaining flavor was chocolaty, almost like a root beer float.

And the Saint of Restraint?

“I remember ’94, it was like cherries,” Kelleher said. “I could still taste them.”

Beer Radar

Dock Street bottles are back. The city’s first craft beer in a bottle had been absent in recent months, following the bankruptcy of Henry Ortlieb’s brewery in Northern Liberties. After months of litigation, Dock Street founder Jeff Ware says he’s wrangled his old trade name and will re-introduce the beer in its original labels. . .

Yards Brewing is moving out of Manayunk. After five years on the Schuylkill, Brewery chief Tom Kehoe says he’s finalizing a deal to move into the old Weisbrod & Hess brewery at Amber and Hagert streets in Kensington. Research by beer historians Rich Wagner and Rich Dochter shows the 41,000-square-foot facility was used as a bottling house for Rheingold Beer. . .

Bill Covaleski at Victory Brewing in Downingtown reports the brewery – located in the former Pepperidge Farm bakery – has installed four more lagering tanks and a new fermenter. He’s hoping the new tanks will help keep up with the “insane” demand for Golden Monkey, a 9.5 percent alcohol Belgian-style trippel. . .O’Neal’s (611 S. 3rd St, near South) is installing StellaCam. It’s a Webcam sponsored by Belgium’s Stella Artois that lets you check out the action at bars around the world. Click on the Portside Pub in Budapest, for example, and you can try your best Hungarian pick-up lines and buy a beer for the blonde in the babushka. . .

R.I.P. to Celis Brewing. The Austin, Texas, craft brewery will bite the dust by the end of the month, a victim of cost-cutting by its money-grubbing parent, Miller Brewing. I hate to say told ya so, but is it any wonder that a multinational tobacco conglomerate couldn’t make a buck in the micro market? This is the company that first entered the craft beer scene by producing the odious Red Dog at its non-existent Plank Road Brewery. Conspiracy freaks are convinced Miller always intended to pull a Kervorkian on Celis. Beer freaks, meanwhile, are hoping that Celis’s originator will buy back the brewery. But at 75 years of age, Belgian Pierre Celis says he needs a partner to make that work.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Trubbel de Yards.

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