Beer Cellaring Basics

Tonight, Local Roots Restaurant will provide the opportunity to taste a two year, comparative vertical tasting of Dogfish Head Brewing’s 120 Minute IPA.  Unless you’re already into cellaring/aging craft beer, this is a rare chance to taste what a year or so can do for a particular beer, as the restaurant will feature this year’s as well as last year’s side by side.  If you are interested in putting away a few (or more) beers from time to time, this just might be the kick start you need.  Many beers not only withstand the test of time, but can grow in complexity, providing a very satisfying personal (or shared, hopefully) tasting experience.  Needless to say, there are a few rules to follow, so take a look at the post below which hopefully covers some cellaring basics, seek out more information on the internet as there are many good articles covering the topic, and make it out to Local Roots tonight to get a taste of what some time can do – for beer.

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Stop. Aging. Beers.

I’ll never forget seeing this incredibly to the point phrase, typed out in the middle of an online discussion several months back.  The thread had begun when someone had decided to put away a bottle of some kind of beer which most wouldn’t generally consider aging, and then posted a photo of it, exclaiming how they couldn’t wait to taste how it would turn out in six months or so.

I think it was a relatively low abv amber ale, or something along those lines.  To which many in the thread remarked “good luck”.  Others diverted the talk into a general discussion about aging and cellaring beers.  And of course, as beer forums are typically fraught with, there were plenty of long, wordy diatribes about what beers had been cellared, and what cellaring experiences came out well and which ones did not.

And then came those three words.

I remember laughing out loud.  In the middle of all the discussion, the boastfulness over beer collections and such, came a not so slight suggestion which, especially in this day and age, cannot be understated.  Just don’t.  Just don’t do it.

Why?  If you’re well informed about cellaring beers, you know the rules already, and you already stopped reading several lines ago.  But there seems to be some amount of misunderstanding about putting bottles (or cans) of craft beer away that is more than a little scary, and I imagine that it pervades among those new to cellaring beers.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with putting some beers away to enjoy what a little time can do for them.  And experimenting with cellaring beer can be a winning, mind blowing experience.  But it can also come out fairly disappointing as well, so to give oneself the best chance at the former, there are some basic rules to follow, which are listed below.  These are certainly not all the suggestions out there, and there is also a ton of information readily available on the internet about cellaring.

  1. In the rare event that I come across a clear glass bottle of beer – because yes, they do still exist – I know I must have a look on my face as if someone has just shown me a field full of grazing unicorns. After all this time, how does this still happen?  Sunlight is well known for causing the “skunking” of beer.  So treat any beers put away for aging like little fledgling vampires and keep them in the dark as much as possible, and definitely out of the sun.
  2. Temperature control.  Keep beers cool to chilly, perhaps in the 50 degree range or so.  Just think about all the things that brewers do with temperature to affect the end product that is the beer.  Heat after the fact can cause the creation of various off flavors, and can cause beer to taste stale and speed up the oxidation process that causes beer to have that well known “cardboard” like flavor most of us have come across.  Also consider places where you might be able to control fluctuations in temperature as well.  (Time to invest in that second, full size refrigerator for the basement!)
  3. Know your beer. Time and aging steals away the characteristics we all love about hop centered beers, so IPAs and the like are generally a no go.  Light and the slow, gradual, unpreventable introduction of oxygen underneath caps and corks make all those citrusy, piney, tropical fruit, oniony, dank-ish characteristics fade away and otherwise can cause those stale, cardboard like tastes, overall making the beer a sad shadow of its former self.  True, there are exceptions to every rule (think Dogfish Head 120, an 18 to 20 percent “IPA”, but although I think we can all agree this is a totally different animal even when fresh and brand new).
  4. Higher alcohol content beers, say in the 9% or higher range, will age better, and as those ‘hot’ alcohol characteristics round out and mellow over time. Also, darker, more malty beers (barleywines, big imperial stouts and the like) often age beautifully.  Many folks say that oxidation, the same process that brings death to lighter beers, can bring out incredibly complex flavors and aromas from those darker beers, including currant or sherry like flavors.
  5. Thinking of aging a beer? Buy two of them.  At least.  Beer is still something to be experienced fresh, regardless of its attributes.  And how else are you going to know the effects of putting away a beer if you didn’t know what it tasted and smelled like right off the bat?

Again, there are exceptions.  Very high abv beers, even ones classified as IPAs, can turn into unique and interesting tasting experiences over time.  However, the hop characteristics will still fall out, causing them to become very different tasting beers than the original.  Only half jokingly, is it often said that aging a big time IPA equates into making a bitter tasting American style barleywine.  Still, my own modest but growing collection of cellared beer probably is made up almost entirely of stouts and barleywines.

One of the absolute best experiences with aging a beer I’ve had so far came from a one year old bottle of Bell’s Expedition Stout, a beer that has a reputation for growing old(er) very gracefully.  Time and patience had coaxed mind blowing, massive amounts of deep, rich, dark fruits and yes, sherry like flavors and aromas from a beer that starts out as an intense and roasty, bitter, near 11% Imperial Stout.

 

 

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~ by thebeerroad on April 16, 2015.

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