Over the last few months, I have been asked by many customers about aging beer. The most frequently asked question is not how, but if it is possible and whether or not it really does improve the beer. The simple answer is yes and it is delicious. Now before you go cellaring some Coors Light or crack open that can of Billy Beer that you found in your Grandpa’s basement when you were 14, you need to hear me out. Cellaring or Aging beer is quite simple, but it does have a few rules.
• First off, pick your beers. Mass market lagers such as Budweiser and Heineken will not work as they are made to be consumed within a few months. Many believe that the beer needs to be at least 8 or 9% ABV in order to be age-able, but that is not entirely true. Some beers around 6.5% ABV will develop under the right conditions. Bottle-conditioned beers such as Belgians and Saisons age well even at lower ABV because of the yeast at the bottom of the bottle reacting with the sugars in the beer. Imperial Stouts and Barley Wines may not have the yeast, but are typically higher in alcohol. This means more sugars and thus more development of flavors.
• Next is storage. This does not need to be anything as elaborate as a wine cellar, just someplace dark and cool. 50-55 degrees is ideal while temperatures up to 65 work as well. Now you may be thinking that you have the perfect spot to age your beer right between the bottle of aerosol whipped cream and half jar of pickles on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, but that is the last place you want to age a beer. First of all, it is too cold for the development of the beer, and second, refrigerators are too dry, which could ruin the cork or seal of the beer cap resulting in spoiled beer. So a dark corner in the basement or the back of a closet will work just fine.
• A few more tricks to ensure any brew you are patient enough to sit for a few years does not disappoint:
o Unlike wine, store your beer upright. This stops the seal from going bad and keeps the yeast at the bottom of the bottle.
o The beer needs to avoid sunlight like an Irishman.
o Buy at least three bottles of each beer. This way you can try one every 6 months or every couple of years to find your favorite “age” of every brew.
There you have it. All you need now is the patience to let your favorite Imperial Stout or Belgian to sit for awhile. Just remember, the longer the wait, the greater the reward. Letting something like Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (if you can find it) sit for a year is great. But who knows how it could be in 10 years? Here are a few to get you started:
St. Bernardus Abt 12 – This beer is great fresh but cellaring it is a guaranteed rewarding experience. The alcohol taste is toned down and more of a ruby port-like body and finish emerge. I know people who have aged this one for 10+ years. Regular Price: $12.49 Sale Price: $9.49
Goose Island Sofie – Let this sit for at least a year and the tart, peppery spice will smooth out and bring out the creamy vanilla goodness with a champagne-like finish. Regular Price: $8.99 Sale Price: $6.99
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout – I sat a bottle of this for 18 months and it was well worth the wait. There was less of an alcohol bite with more of the roasty malts and just enough bitterness to balance it all out. Regular Price: $10.99 Sale Price: $8.99
Petrus Oak Aged Pale – Technically, this beer has already been aged for you. Before it is bottled, it is aged 20 to 30 months in oak vessels. But let the bottle sit a year longer in the cellar and find the beer sweet and sour front smooth out to a creamy, warming finish. Regular Price: $4.99 Sale Price: $3.99