Deciding what beers you want to age doesn’t have to be be a big decision. Some beers benefit from ageing, which results in more intense flavours and if you are buying beers specifically for ageing purposes, go for beers that are high in alcohol.
Usually the best beers for ageing are high ABV beers such as barley wines, Belgian ales, wood-aged beers and Russian imperial stouts to name but a few. So to get the best flavour from these beers………let them rest and try to avoid the temptation of drinking them too soon!
Buying beers specifically for ageing purposes, go for brews that are high in alcohol (at least 8% ABV) and malt, and low in hops, as the bittering compounds break down over time. IPA‘s which are hoppy beers are best kept refrigerated with the cold storage preventing hop oil spoilage.)
Bottle-conditioned – Bottle-conditioned beer contains active yeast that ferments the beer as ages giving the beer new flavours.
Reserve – Brewers’ special reserve beers are rare releases (usually anniversary brews) often intended to be aged.
Vertical – This word on a beer label means the brewer wants you to buy now, enjoy later. These beers are released annually and meant to be collected over time to form a “vertical collection” of the same brew.
Barrel-aged – Beers aged in wood usually contain big flavours that balance together with time.
If you are trying cellaring, trial and error is paramount. So for instance, buy three barley wines drink one immediately, one in 2 years, and one in 5 years. Take notes each time and compare them to determine the beer’s optimal ageing period.
Beer needs three perfect conditions to age properly – darkness, coolness and consistency.
Darkness – Beer should always be kept in the dark as light from the sun or a bulb reacts with acids in the beer which results is a “skunky” or sulfuric taste and smell.
Coolness – Beer should also age in a cool place, ideally between 50 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit (the standard temperature for cellaring), but not in a refrigerator. Barley wines and Belgian strong ales should be kept at room temperature and lighter brews like Pilsners and hoppier styles at slightly cooler temperatures.
Consistency – The conditions surrounding your beer should stay consistent. Don’t store beer in a cupboard that gets hot in the summer and chilly in the winter, or in a place that gets light in the early morning. If you’ve already chilled a bottle in the fridge but now want to cellar it, don’t worry, only excessive temperatures ruin beer, so as long as the beer isn’t frozen, it will age normally in your cellar.
HOW TO STORE
Hang a tag around the neck of each beer or put a sticker on the bottom and note the date you began ageing it and then put it away.
Do you stand-it-up or lay-it-down? This has been a heated debate for decades. Laying down the beer like wine, is usually easier storage-wise. For this you can use a wine rack, although some argue that corked beer should be kept horizontal to maintain moisture in the cork, as a dried-out cork can shrink, which increases the beer’s surface area exposed to air within the bottle, giving active yeast more fuel for respiration. Many brewers think that vertical storage is the best method. Corks may give an undesirable musty, “corky” flavour in beer and standing beer upright eliminates that risk and usually there is enough humidity inside the bottle to keep the cork from drying out.
When beer is stored horizontally, any sediment in the beer spreads out and may cause a ring of yeast inside the bottle that doesn’t settle, therefore storing beer vertically forces sediment to sink to the bottom of the bottle, which means it is less likely to end up in your glass.
HOW LONG TO WAIT
Nobody knows for sure how long it will take to become the perfect beer, usually by trial and error.
Allow beers in the cellar to age at least 1 year and if you store several bottles of one brew, open them at regular intervals such as 1 year, 5 years and 10 years to see what works. Some beers, especially “vertical series” beers are intended to be aged even longer.
A bottle of Cantillon lambic will age for about 20 years, whereas a Chimay Blue Grand Reserve should age no longer than 10 years. But after all, it’s all down to individual taste and “beauty is in the taste of the beholder”.
So when you do decide to serve your aged beer, follow the store-serve temperature rule:-
Serve the beer at the same temperature in which it was stored (unless, of course, it’s been in the fridge, then let it warm up for a while and then pour).