Most beers are best drunk fresh, particularly those on the hop-forward side of things. But as with every rule, there are exceptions. Like fine wines, some beers dig deeper into their flavors with age, blooming into something truly extraordinary. Today, we’ll go over the best methods for choosing a beer to age, and what conditions are best for bringing out the most in your bottle.
Will It Age Well?
The flavors that hold true over time are breadiness, earthiness, blackcurrant, straw, woodiness, wine and sweetness. If you choose a beer that is strong in these flavors already, chances are they will only grow. However, do consider that metallic and cardboard flavors can develop in some beers. Also, beers with higher ABV (7% and up) tend to age better than those with less alcohol.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Just as taste in beer style is relative, the styles that you may like aged are probably different than your neighbors’ or friends’ preferred aged styles.
So, here’s a quick rundown of the styles that might be good for aging.
Where and How to Store
There’s a reason that this process is often referred to as ‘cellaring.’ Beer of any variety hates heat and light. This is the cause of ‘skunkiness,’ or that stale, horrible flavor that one equates with a bottle that’s been found sitting on a porch after several weeks. This is why craft beers are stored in dark bottles or cans. So you’ll want a cool, dark environment to let your beer sleep. Temperatures in the low 50s are thought to be best, thought consistency in temperature is also key. If you have a corner of your basement that keeps cool year-round, that might be the places to set up your little aging center.
It’s best to keep your beer upright for several reasons. Although wine cellars have a tendency to store their bottles horizontally, vertical orientation helps to keep the beer from over-oxidizing and ruining the flavor. Also, if you are choosing the age a corked beer, that same cork can impart some not-so-pleasant flavors into the brew. Sommeliers refer to this as a wine being ‘corked.’
Deciding to age a beer can be fraught with impatience. The time that you store a beer is ultimately up to you. However, we so humbly suggest buying several of your chosen beer, and tasting it as it progresses, starting with a fresh sample, then aging one year, two years and so on to see how the flavor changes. Keeping note of the changes can be a fun project, as well as allow you to know what the best aging time is for your next go ’round. Plus, if you don’t wait as long as planned (there is that impatience again), you will still have a back up so you can taste what you otherwise would have missed.
Of course we have a few suggestions for as to what you might like to age. If there is something on this list you’ve liked fresh, maybe put a bottle or two away to see how your favorite flavors develop with age. There’s a few of these that will be off shelf for the season, so try and grab them while you still can.
Goose Island – Sofie
Troegs – Mad Elf
Uinta – Anniversary Barleywine
Widmer Bros. – Old Embalmer
Victory – Storm King Stout
Evolution – Bourbon Migration