Wax or Cork?
This week on Twitter, beer writer Jeff Alworth has been hosting a discussion on wax dipped beer bottles. It’s a conversation prompted by the usual holiday flood of waxy bottles that require three tools and a lot of perspiration to open.
Jeff seems to hate wax. For one thing, waxed caps are difficult to open, and for another they have no practical purpose. A wax covered cap does not keep oxygen out of the bottle any better than a naked cap. The only thing wax dipping does is signal that the beer inside must be very special.
Jeff suggests some alternatives to clunky wax. One, use nice labels – gold ink, textured papers, etc. Two, find a more pleasing bottle shape – twenty-twos are big lumps of ugly. Or, three, replace the wax with a cork. I am all for good label design and nicer looking bottles, they totally signal value and fanciness, but I think the cork and cage sends a very different signal than wax.
Think about it. What sorts of beers would you expect to see in a wine stoppered bottle? Now what’s behind all that irritating wax? In my mind they are very different beers.
The first beers I ever saw topped with champagne corks came from Belgium – large format Chimay bottles, Saison Dupont, Boon Geuze. I expect a certain type of beer behind that cork, dry, balanced, possibly sour.
Waxed dipping seems to have started with big imperial stouts and barleywine – the Abyss, Mirror Mirror, Massive! When I crack open all that wax, I’m expecting something thick, boozy and, more often than not, barrel aged.
Of course, there are beers that break these molds. Upright dips their Fantasia sour blend in white wax and North Coast puts a cork in their barrel aged Old Stock barley wine. But I feel like the trend holds true.
I think the real issue is cost. Anyone with a little time on his hands can melt wax. Corks require special equipment. But which do you prefer? A hand-dipped wax cap or a fancy cork with wire cage? And what does each symbolize to you?