Jun 7, 2012

Aging Beer, a few things to think about...

A while ago, a friend of mine suggested I do a piece on aging beer. I thought it was a great idea, and planned on doing it, but as seems to happen so often, life sort of took over, and I set the idea aside for quite a while. However, recently, I've been seeing a lot on other beer sites about this very topic, and upon looking into my own "beer stash" I decided the time had come to revisit this topic, and offer just a few helpful tips to those thinking of, or already cellaring a "beer stash". So, thank you Lisa, this was a great idea, so here you go!
My dream cellar!!

The most common question I am asked is "what kinds of beers are the best for storage?". As with most things, there is a simple answer to this, then there is a more lengthily answer. The simple answer, almost any malty rich beer with an ABV of at least 8%, ideally 10%. Easy as that, right? well, yes, and now. Aging changes characteristic's of beer. It depletes some, deepens others. Try to avoid most "hoppy" styles, like IPA's. Hop flavor is almost always best enjoyed fresh. Some double, triple IPA's will age better the normal IPA's. Beers such as Dogfish Heads 120 Minute, Founders Devil Dancer are examples of more extreme IPA's that will age pretty well. In fact, I have a few 120 Minutes in my cellar as we speak.

If you still have a few questions, he is a general list of some styles that age well.

A great Barleywine to cella. I have a six pack from 2012 back to 2008 each in my cellar

Baltic Porter
Belgian Golden Strong
Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Belgian Tripel
Berliner Weisse
Doppelbock (above 8% ABV)
Eisbock (above 8% ABV)
Flanders Red Ale
Lambic (despite a low ABV)
Old Ale
Russian Imperial Stout
Scotch Ale
Wood-Aged Beer

Look for rich, malty beers, darker ales like double or Baltic porters, wood aged brown ales, and especially barleywines.

Also, look at the label, not only for the ABV, but look for key "hints" in the description that will hint as to weather or not a particular beer will age well. Obviously, terms like "barrel aged" or "oak aged" means the beer has already aged to some extent in wooden or oak barrels, imparting the flavors of the wood in the beer. Aging the beer even longer can enhance and heighten some of those woody flavors, which to me, is always a good thing. Check out a piece on barrel aged beers I talked about earlier here, any beers in this article will age VERY well. The term "Reserve" is another indication of a beer that will age. These are normally high abv, rich beers, normally special or limited release beers. Chimay Blue is a great example of this, and a beer that ages wonderfully. Bottle Conditioned beers also age well. These beers contain live, active yeast in them. The live yeast aids in the beers ability to mature, and age. Also, look for the term "Brettanomyces". This is a strain of Belgian yeast that use to be a natural addition of the brewing process. It gives the beer a sort of "funky" or sour taste. These beers are normally best consumed after some time on the shelf.

This is a pic of my collection (does not include my 5 six packs of Bigfoot)

Once your decided what beers you want to store, you need to be able to keep these beers in "ideal" conditions if at all possible. Light and heat are enemies to beer! So you want to keep beers in a cool, dark place, preferable at a general, consistent temperature of about 50-55 degrees. Basements are good for this, however, you want to be careful that the basement is not too damp, as this will corrode and rust beers that have metal caps, so be mindful. A dehumidifier can help in this situation. If you are like me, and do not have a basement, a closet will work well, which is wear I keep mine. Even a kitchen cubboard and/or liquor cabinet will also work, although space may become an issue as your collection grows.

The most important aspect, is too keep sunlight away from the beer! Light striking (happens when beer is exposed to sunlight), and causes that sort of "skunk" funk flavor in the beers, normally associated with beers in green bottles. This is cause by a compound called "isohumulones". This happens when "When beer is exposed to light, these compounds can decompose in a reaction catalyzed by riboflavin to generate free-radical species by the homolytic cleavage of the exocyclic carbon-carbon bond." or something like that (thank you wikipedia).


You can store some styles in refrigeration as well, however, not "refrigerator" temps, more like wine cooler temps. Light lagers, IPA's, Wheat Beers and others can be stored for some time at temps about 45-50 degrees.

Wine coolers do have one distinct disadvantage however. Bottles are stored on their sides. Beer is best stored standing up. This is for a couple of reasons. One of them being flavor. If the beer has a cork, this can impart some of the corks flavor in the beer, which isn't nearly as tasty as wood/bourbon flavors of barrel aged beers! Also, laying down prevents the yeast for settling on the bottom, making the beer more susceptible to oxidation, which you do not want.

Something else you want to think about, especially as your collection grows, is how you are going to catalog and track your collection. I like to keep an excel sheet on my cellar, that tells me what beers are in it, when I put them in, and how long they have been in there for. It is important to make sure you update your list, however you decide to keep it, with every addition or subtraction to your collection.

Probably not "good" anymore!
Another question that comes up almost as frequently as what beers to store, is how long to store them for. There is really no good, or wrong answer to this. One thing to know is, you don't have to worry about the beer "going bad". It isn't like milk, or OJ. It won't spoil. It may taste like crap after 25 years on the shelf, but it won't spoil (unless the cap/cork has been compromised). There are a few things to consider. High Hop'ed beers, like IPA's, and pale ales won't age well after after just a few months, 6 tops normally. While some barelywines or Imperial Stouts can age for 10 years or more, and get better and better with each passing year. Each beer is different, even different beers of the same style. Best suggestion, ask around, ask your local beer beer guy, or use on line forums like Beer Advocate or Rate Beer These sites are full of people that store and taste beers, as well as exchange ideas and knowledge about beers.

resist the urge!!!!
My best advice, is experiment, and ask questions. Again, there is no wrong or right. If you like the taste of a 5 year old IPA, by all means, store your IPA for 5 years. This should be fun, don't take it too serious. I can tell you from experience, the hardest part of cellaring beer, is resisting the urge to drink it!!!

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