To age or not to age, that is the question…

This post is likely geared more to those of you who have been into the craft beer scene awhile. Like a very fine wine there are a number of beers out there that do quite well with some age on them.

Why age a beer? Good question. Many big beers out there such as Stouts, Barleywines, Strong Ales, & Quads can develop while in the bottle, similar in many respects to a wine.

A great real life example is B.O.R.I.S the Crusher from Hoppin’ Frog Brewery. When fresh this beer is a very good Imperial stout. As an Imperial Stout it tends to be a bit hop forward when compared to others in its category. Recently I enjoyed a three year cellar aged bottle and it was a rather different beer. It became much smoother, almost silky. The hops mellowed significantly and it improved overall in balance. You could pick up more of the subtleties in the various flavors versus when fresh.There are a number of brewers out there that actually state on their labels that the beer is fine to be put away in the cellar for awhile. Some put “enjoy by” dates on them instead of born on dates. It is always a treat to see your enjoy by date listed at seven (7) years from the present. It let’s you know you likely have  a really good brew on your hands.

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So what do the actual brewers of the beer think? Understand that there is a fair amount of turbulence on this topic in the “scene”. Founders‘ Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki is not necessarily a fan of aging beers, but then again they also have a vested interest in you buying fresh. He suggested trying it with a favorite of yours in a similar process to what I mention below.

In speaking with Anello Molica of Central Waters personally on this topic, he wants people to enjoy the beer for what it is, rather than just sitting on it. However, he also agrees that some beers can – in some cases – taste very good with age on them. I appreciated his straightforward and “real” approach on the topic. Brewing is his art, he is wants you to drink it but also understands that that it can appreciate or change in flavor with age.

Each beer will likely have it’s aging sweet spot. Some will be longer or shorter than others. Having recently done a six (yes 6) year vertical tasting with Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout I can say that the this particular beer is about perfect at three years of age. A vertical for those new to this arena is a series of years of the same beer all tasted at the same time. In this case we tasted from 2011 – 2016. The 2013 won out in a taste session even against the fresh 2016 which came in about tied for second with the 2012 variant. For reference the 2016 tasted most similar to the 2013 and I believe it is going to age and taste very similar at three years.

If you decide to to try it (I encourage you to with a beer that you can get regularly that meets criteria). Get a four pack, try one at six months and then twelve, eighteen, then 24 months. Always compare against a fresh version when possible or take very detailed notes on your tastings at each interval. Control your palate too, which means try to (note) what you eat/drink prior to your tasting so you can duplicate it each time.

Once you begin to get an appreciation for cellar aged beers do watch out. It can become an expensive hobby! Instead of a 4 pack of your favorites you may be buying two, or even a case. Some to enjoy now and some to enjoy a few years from now with some great company.

Here are some aging basics:

  • Age in Style
    • Stout, Barleywine, Strong Ale, Quad, Trippel, Sour
    • Avoid aging Pale Ales, IPAs, Lagers, etc.
  • ABV (alcohol by volume)
    • >=7.5% – 8.5% leaning to the higher side
  • Get to the cellar!
    • I use the term cellar rather loosely. A dark corner in your basement with some shelving can work quite well as a cellar. Be sure the temperature remains very consistent and cool (more on that below). Minimal temperature variation is quite ideal. (+/- 5F over a large range of time)
      • For reference my cellar is a section of my basement that tends to remain at about 56°F most of the year.
  • NO LIGHT
    • You will want to keep your beer out of the light. Mainly UV light. UV light breaks down beer, which is why good beer comes in dark brown bottles or cans. If your beer is in anything other colored glass, is it really beer?
  • Be Straight… Up
    • Unlike wine you will NOT want your beer to age on its side cap down like a wine. Sorry, you can’t re-purpose that wine rack you received as a gift but don’t want to throw out because your friend always asks about it.
    • Store beer standing up, beers settle overtime and some sediments can develop at the bottom
  • Be cool
    • High temperatures are not the friend of an aging beer. If the beer gets too warm it can age much faster and actually go bad
    • Ideal temperatures for aging are 50°F-60°F (10°C-15.6°C) to keep oxidation/aging at a limited and controlled level.
  • Don’t shake me bro
    • Avoid heavy movement. Shaking or large abrupt movements can cause heavy oxidation and cause a beer to significantly break down in an unwanted or unexpected manner.

 

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