Lessons learned while aging…

…Beer that is.

As many of you who read regularly know, I have been aging beer for about 7 years or so. I have supplied some information about aging basics and the benefits in: To Age or not to Age, that is the question… I suppose you could consider this one a spin off from that post.

Over the past 7 years I have learned some valuable lessons. I wanted to share my successes and mistakes with you in hopes that you can use my experience for your gain.

1. Each kind of beer hits a “sweet spot” and then it fades

Additionally, all beers develop a sweet spot. For one beer it may be 2 years, another 3 or perhaps with others even 5 years or more.

I am still working through my cellar with some of my favorites doing some verticals at times. Aging beer is a game of planning and patience. I also take good notes when I have had the opportunity to be a part of a share where they are done as well.

Some that I know the sweet spot on already –

  • Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout – 3 years
  • Goose Island Bourbon County – 3-4 years (from some great beer friends I have)
  • Founders Imperial Stout – 3 years
  • Bell’s Expedition Stout – Still searching! (This one holds up amazingly well)

2. Beers that are relatively hop forward tend not to age well.

Over time hops in the beer break down. As most likely know, that is why fresh IPAs are best (otherwise they will start to develop barley wine type notes). The beer will slowly oxidize as well and the beer will develop a slightly odd “old” or almost “musty” note when it passes its prime. It becomes more prevalent as the beer warms when drinking it. Do not confuse IBUs with hop forwardness in the beer. With big beers like imperial stouts etc., a lot of hops are needed to create balance in the beer because so much malt is needed in the brewing process. In fact a lot of imperial stouts will tend to have as high or higher IBUs than many IPAs. The primary reason is to add bitterness or you may have a sugary, malty drink that you may not like or even consider beer.

3. Beers under 10% ABV tend not to age well

Lesson learned – Generally speaking beers under 10% ABV don’t hold up well past 12 months. There are some exceptions, Sour beers for example will age fairly well due to a higher pH occurring naturally. Based upon my experience once ales and stouts of roughly 8%-9.8% ABV hit 12 months or so they start to fade out and the beer will begin to go south pretty quickly as opposed to getting any better. Again, this is based upon my experience and may not be the case for you or all situations. In all honesty, my experience has also shown that beers under 10% ABV tend not to be as complex with flavor profiles as well so the benefit of aging in the first place is minimized some from the beginning.

4. Take good notes

Smell is by far the strongest sense tied to memory. Taste and smell are very closely related, with somewhere near 80% of taste tied to smell. However, our preferences with taste can become highly influenced or biased based upon sight. Without good notes it may be difficult to truly tell the difference. When aging beer it is important to take notes when the beer is fresh. You want to note any nuances or flavors that are very prominent. What stood out to you at the time? What did you like in the beer? If you can be descriptive and detailed it helps. That is the primary reason I use Untappd. I can take my “notes” anywhere I go with my mobile. There are also cellaring apps such as Beer Cellar List that will allow you to input tasting notes if you choose.

As beers age they mellow out. For instance, coffee or maple notes that stand out in a stout when fresh are going to fade some and get smoother. While as it ages that subtle vanilla note when fresh may now come to the fore and be more prominent. This type of scenario becomes very common with barrel aged beers (Bourbon, Brandy, etc).

5. Aging beer gets expensive

While you probably already figured it out, instead of purchasing one or two of your favorite brews you will find yourself doubling or tripling your purchase so you can savor the flavor during a typically unavailable season or so you can try a three year vertical down the road. In my case, some of my “stash” is really just for me to have a few of my favorite brews when it is not “stout season”. Although, I do try to plan out what I want to do in the future. For example my goal each year with Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) is to have one each year for five years resulting in a five year vertical. There are others that I take the same approach with too, but some frankly are just too expensive. While I love beer it is not my life and my family and other things come first.

6. It is worth it!

Aging beer is a lot of fun. I have met a lot of very great people along the way. I have friends now that I have gained through beer shares, beer talk, etc. While I am biased, I highly recommend it. If you are interested in starting out, shoot me a line and I am happy to help you out. You can also reference some of my other posts on the topic here at stout-central.com/blog

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