Ask McArdle: Ancient beer and old interns

No socks, no service

mcardle 6 667My pal has started cellaring his beer. Will my Pabst actually improve if I leave it in the basement for a year?

Goodness, no. Certain beers benefit from being aged in a cellar, but your unfortunate beverage is not one of them. Delicate, lower alcohol beers—think of pilsners—tend to degrade over time, according to master cicerone and beer consultant Mirella Amato. “It’s not that they start tasting bad—the word I use is ‘lifeless,’” Amato, proprietor of the aptly named, tells me. Conversely, high-alcohol beers—anything over, say, 7%—will see their flavours meld, evolve and deepen, sometimes gaining tones of sherry or dried fruit as they mature. As for deciding when to quaff your precious brew, that is a matter of personal discretion. “I’ve yet to find a convincing, consistent theory that says ‘age this kind of beer for this long, that kind of beer for that long,’” says Amato. “Each beer evolves completely differently and you just have to see.”

World’s strongest brews (by alcohol): Scorschbräu Scorschbock (Germany), 57%; t’Koelschip Start the Future (Netherlands), 60%; Brewmeister Armaggeddon (U.K.), 65%

Novices might wish to consider purchasing three of a particular beer for cellaring: one to consume right away as a reference point (huzzah!), another to drink in a year (double huzzah!) and a final one to try in two or more years (eventual huzzah!) While there are comparisons with the perhaps more familiar practice of aging wine, beer has its differences. For one, beer should be cellared upright to prevent contact with its cap. For another, almost all beers are ready to be consumed from the moment they exit the brewery. “As a general rule, brewers tend to release beer when they feel the flavours are right,” says Amato. “Any fresh beer is going to taste great.” That is part of the glory of beer—it rewards patience for aging, but also impatience for drinking.

A fellow who interned with our company years ago wants to use me as a reference. I only vaguely remember him. Is it appropriate to say no?


It is not only appropriate but also necessary. You may feel guilty about rebuffing a former colleague, but an ill-informed recommendation will have consequences—for you. “You’re putting your professional name on the line if you’re serving as a reference for someone,” advises Eileen Dooley, a career coach in Calgary. “If you give someone a glowing recommendation and then they don’t work out in the new job, it reflects poorly on you.” Better to politely inform him that your faded memories would not do justice to his current skills. In dealing with interns, it may be tempting to pen a letter of recommendation upon their departure and simply address it “To Whom it May Concern.” Such letters are as useful as a silent alarm clock. “Companies want verbal recommendations,” says Dooley. Here’s a moral for all: keep in touch with former office mates. As I tell Mrs. McArdle whenever I go gallivanting with ex-comrades—it’s not a wasted evening; it’s an investment in the future.

Is it OK to go sockless at the office in the summertime?

In recent years, dapper gents like Kanye West, Jude Law and Ryan Gosling have been spotted wearing tailored suits without socks. Fashion designer Thom Browne actually started this long-simmering trend more than a decade ago. But even Browne admits wearing short, nearly invisible running socks to comfort his soles during the workday. Further, when Conrad Black arrived for a court appearance in 2007 without socks, he was widely ridiculed. Before baring your ankles, be confident you are a Kanye, not a Conrad.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything:

Illustration by Peter Arkle