Over the last several years, barrel-aged beers have become available from more and more breweries. The surge in popularity of sour beers, in particular, has led brewers to use barrel-aging to continue the fermentation process. But beyond sours, there are barrel-aged pale ales, IPAs, porters and stouts. Brewers are using bourbon, rum, rye, whiskey, cabernet, merlot and chardonnay barrels to hold the beer and then let it mature and transform into an entirely new beer.
And while you and I can’t barrel-age beer, we are able to let our beer age and discover that a beer we love can take on a new appearance, aroma, and taste. But before you decide to take your beer and let it sit to see how it changes, there are a few important guidelines for aging beer.
One: As a general rule, IPAs and most hoppy beers are best when they are fresh and, consequently, are not conducive to aging, or cellaring.
Two: higher alcohol beers are the best candidates, as well as ones with a strong malt character. Some of the styles that are good choices for cellaring include Barleywines, Scotch Ales, Belgian Strong Ales, Russian Imperial Stouts, Doppelbocks, Tripels and barrel-aged beer.
Three: The best environment for storing one of these beer styles is in a place where temperatures are cool and relatively steady and there is limited light exposure. So unfinished basements, or cellars, are ideal. If you don’t have a basement, use a closet where you rarely turn on the light and there is no direct heat nearby. Light can give beer a skunky smell and the heat, essentially, cooks your already cooked—your already brewed—beer.
Now that you have the style and space set, be sure to store your beer vertically. Don’t lay it on its side. When your craft beer is stored in a vertical position, there is only a small amount of oxygen exposed to the beer. In addition, a vertical storage allows any yeast in the bottle to settle at the bottom.
Be sure to mark the year on each bottle so that you can taste changes as the beer ages. While there’s no exact number of years you can age a beer, if you can be patient, you can store some beers for as long as ten years, and most beers in the styles that I just mentioned will age for at least two years.
Finally, just as there is no set perfect period of time to cellar your beer, there’s also no way to predict what will happen to your beer’s look, taste and smell. 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. And that’s part of the adventure.
So… cellar some beer and enjoy the experience!
100.7 The Bay’s Craft Beer Guy