The Guide to Collecting and Aging Beer
Just to be clear, no beer needs to be aged. In fact, lots of beer shouldn’t be. Still, some finely crafted beverages out there can develop over time and really display different characteristics when you decide to crack them open. You may be well on your way to enjoying come cellared wonders, but if you aren’t, and want to get started, here are a few tips.
Dark, Malty & Strong Beers
Some Sour Beers
Most Hoppy Beers
Low Alcohol Beers
WHAT TO SAVE & WHAT NOT TO
Figuring out which bottles will be worth stashing away is the first step to starting your cellar. Generally, big, malty, dark beers work well. Have some bomb of a stout you just picked up, it can mellow out over time allowing different characteristics of the beer to shine through. Shoot for brews over 8% ABV.
Barleywines are usually great for aging as well as sours/wild ales/lambics.
Beers that happen to be bottle-conditioned – beers naturally carbonated in the bottles thanks to yeast and residual or added sugar – can work because the profile of the beer will obviously evolve over time.
Hop-forward beers usually don’t age well. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, IPAs, pale ales and others will lose some of that delicious hoppiness as time goes by. This goes for hop-centric stouts or other styles as well where the hops impart serious aroma, bitterness or overall character to the beer.
Also keep in mind the alcohol content of the beer. For the most part, weaker beers are not ideal for long periods of aging.
Watch out for beers that have added flavor from fruits, spices or other additions as a lot of those components of the beer’s profile will fade with time.
There are two main enemies you want to avoid: Heat and sunlight. Sunlight can destroy your beer like a well-focused laserbeam. A dark area for your cellaring purposes is best. As far as temperature goes, you should keep in mind a couple of things. First, the colder it is, the slower the aging process,
which is why keeping your beer in the fridge keeps it fresher, longer. While this works for beers you are going to drink soon, having your cellar too cold will halt your brews from evolving. On the flipside, high temps can wreck havoc on your precious stash. The ideal temperature is probably between 50-60 degrees without much fluctuation. While you can go out and buy a temperature controller to help with unexpected spikes, a cool basement will usually be just fine.If you happen to be storing beers that are corked, you will also want to pay a little bit of attention to the humidity of your cellar/basement. If the humidity is too low, corks can dry out. Finally, if you get serious about crafting your own beer cellar, you’re going to want to keep tabs on everything.
We’d recommend a site like Cellar HQ or The Beer Cellar to keep track of your bottle collection.
Image: Bernt Rostad
The safe bet is to stand your bottles upright. Some say that corked bottles should be stored on their sides to keep the cork from drying out, but most beers will be better off standing up with less of a chance of rapid oxidation.
How Long Should You Age Your beer?
There’s no set rule for this and it can vary A LOT based on the beer you are aging. Most beers probably shouldn’t go beyond the 3-5 year mark. That said, some beers will age wonderfully for a decade or longer. If you can afford to do it, a good way to judge is to buy a few of the same beer and open one to taste every year to see how it’s changing. This will also help you determine when he beer has reached its breaking point. Another way to check is to search online for others aging the beer you are interested in. You should be able to find a more specific answer about how the beer holds up that way.
How does taste develope with age?
Again, this depends on the beer. Assuming you’ll be mostly sticking to high gravity, malty numbers, think of it like sanding the edges of your beer. Really sharp notes (bourbon-y booze, perhaps) will mellow and let other aspects come through for a more rounded beverage. Certain aspects of the beer could have been masked by that one powerful note when it was first released. Aging the beer can often bring these flavors into the mix. Sour beers are a little different. Usually the fruity aspects fade with time and the beer will actually taste more sour and funky.