Back in January, I talked about cellaring beer; the practice of taking certain beers and
letting them age in cool, dark spaces. Being in a cooler, darker space is important to this
process because warm air and light are not friends for any beer, especially a beer you are
hoping to age.
As the beer ages, some of the flavors that may have been prominent when you first drank
the beer can fade and, in so doing, let other aromas and flavors become more a part of the
beer’s character. There is an element of trial and error to aging beers, some will change for
the better… and some will change for the worse. You can increase your chances of success
by focusing on Barleywines, Belgian Strong Ales, Doppelbocks, Russian Imperial Stouts,
Scotch Ales, Tripels, barrel aged beer and high alcohol by volume beers.
Despite being a craft beer enthusiast for many years, I had never been patient enough to
cellar beer. I knew that, in general, the fresher the beer, the better. But after seeing the
surprise on enough people’s faces when I said I had never cellared a beer, I decided to…
finally… give it a try.
So last Fall, I set aside four beers from my collection of the season’s Pumpkin Ales and did
everything right: I used a dark, cool space; selected an area that had a relatively constant
temperature; stored the bottles upright; and chose one of the right criteria for all: higher
ABV beer, and one was also barrel aged.
Now, after a year of aging and 2018 releases of three of the same beers, I did a side-by-
side tasting last weekend with my wife Carol and oldest son, Justin.
The first beer we compared was Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale. This is a rich, dark pumpkin ale
and the 2017 version stood the test of time, tasting virtually identical to its 2018 brother.
The second beer was Southern Tier’s Pumking. This is an orange colored ale that tastes
almost like pumpkin pie in a glass. There was a subtle, but still noticeable difference
between the 2017 and 2018 releases. The 2017 version had softened and was slightly
hazy, but still had retained Pumking’s spectacular pumpkin pie tasting profile.
The third beer was also from Southern Tier: a rum barrel aged version of Pumking,
affectionately called “Rumking”. Unfortunately, this was a big disappointment. The 2018
“Rumking” tasted just as its description suggests—Pumking aged in rum barrels and had
Pumking’s distinct orange color. It is so good! But the 2017 release had lost all of its
pumpkin pie qualities, was almost golden in appearance, and tasted a lot like a bitter pilsner
with hints of rum.
Part of the craft beer journey means that there will be hits and misses. But, to quote
Meatloaf, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”. And after this first cellaring experience, I’m going
to do more of it and try other styles.
Craft beer. It’s a wonderful adventure!
The Craft Beer Guy