Original Content by Bryce
Most beers are made to be enjoyed as fresh as possible. Regular 6 packs of brown ales, Pilsner lagers, and IPAs should be consumed within 6 to 12 months of production. Other beers are made to be cellared for years and enjoyed with family and friends for special occasions. Some beers are Vintage dated like a fine wine, others have suggested a date in the distant future the beer should be held until, but most beers simply have a production date printed on the label which allows you to know how old your beer is when you do choose to open the bottle.
So why age beer? The aging process mellows a beer bringing its disparate flavors into harmony, or evolves flavors to enrich the complexity of the beers’ profile. Beers that are bottle conditioned or still alive will continue to ferment; drying the beer and adding flavor. Some beers are made that are not enjoyable when fresh, the brewer includes sugars and excess hops that she knows will come into perfect balance in time.
Which Beers to age:
A beer which takes well to age was most likely brewed with the intent to produce a beer that will stand up to time, it is rarely an accident that a beer can sit for a decade and not only be potable but better than when fresh. Sugars, high alcohol, low pH, high hopping rates and judicious use of oak are some of the elements which will make a durable beer. Barley wines, Belgian Quads, Olde ales, Imperial stout, Geuze and other sour beers are the kings of the aged beers. Some porters and strong fest beers can be aged but lack the alcohol and body to age for years. The Barley wines have the alcohol and bitterness to fend off oxidation, Geuzes have the flora to grow in complexity and have their fruit flavors ripen. Each of these beers will gain some flavors and loose others; hops and fresh fruit fall off, baked fruits and ice cream shop flavors increase.
How to age beer:
You do not need a cedar lined cellar beneath your second mansion to age beers, it helps but is not necessary. A cool, calm, dark place is best; a closet or the space under your kitchen sink will do well for most people. Store your beers upright, the cap or cork can alter the flavor in time. Light will harm your beer, keep them in a place that is as dark as possible. Vibrations will affect your aging, so refrigerators may not be ideal. Temperature is very important, never warm the beer above the temperature at which it was fermented. Warmer storage temperatures will age your beers more quickly than cooler temperatures but generally 55-65 F will allow your investment graceful aging. Some people or organizations with larger cellars or forgetful minds keep a journal or log of what goes into and out of the cellar so the beers are not lost to the ages.
When to enjoy your beer:
I prefer my saisons at 8 months, I like my barley wines at 18 months. The saisons dry out nicely and the Barley wines’ hops are subdued with the malts shining nicely. Some people prefer older or younger beers, time and trials have led me to my sweet spots and can lead you to yours. When buying ageable beers pick up some extras and age them longer or shorter than you think you should to see how the flavors have matured. A case of saison can be enjoyed one bottle per month to track its progress. Generally 2-5 years is the longest a beer will be enjoyable. Some extraordinary examples like the Thomas Hardy or the Bruery Anniversary ales have decades long potential but these are the pricey rarities. It is best to open your beers too soon as opposed to too late, keep an eye on your cellar log and don’t let the best be forgotten.
Vintage Beer – Patrick Dawson
Tasting Beer – Randy Mosher
Oxford Companion to Beer – Garret Oliver