If you’re new to aging craft beer, you may find the concept of aging a product delivered to you by the brewmaster as “ready to drink.” However, many aficionados will tell you that there are some good reasons to wait before you drink.
Also called “cellaring,” aging craft beer is the process of letting it sit for a period of time before consuming to allow the beer to change and reveal new flavors. Before you go down that path with your new shipment of craft beer, take these three considerations into account:
Keep in mind that not every beer is going to age well… in fact, very few will age well. The vast majority of beers are made to serve and enjoy fresh, within the window of time specified by the brewery when it was released—especially pale ales, lagers, pilsners, and IPAs. If not served within 90 days of packaging, these beers will have lost the flavor the brewmaster intended.
That said, there actually are beers that are designed to age:
● Any beers that are over 10% Alcohol By Volume (ABV), the so-called “Big” Beers, will stand up to time in the cellar. The higher level the beer has, the more likely it is to be a good candidate for aging.
● Beer that was originally aged in barrels used to make bourbon, rum, tequila, or wine will also “cellar” well.
● Sour-style beer such as brettanomyces have been exposed to elements that cause this taste to develop. If you like this flavor and want to cultivate it, allowing this type of beer to age will cause the bacteria still left in it to multiply, making it increasingly sour over time.
Aging craft beer is a trial-and-error process, and you’re likely going to have as many failures as successes. Just remember that, while you can age any beer, hoppy, lightweight beers with low ABVs are not likely to stand up well to the test of time. Choose heavier, barrel-aged beers with higher ABVs if you want to try your hand at craft beer aging.
While the process of cellaring or aging a craft beer isn’t complicated, there are a few things to keep in mind:
● When aging craft beer, stand the bottles up. When the beer bottle is placed on its side, the yeast cannot collect at the bottom of the bottle—which means it will not be easy to pour when the time comes. Standing the bottles up also reduces the amount of surface area that is exposed, limiting the oxidation that takes place. The only time a craft beer should be aged on its side is In the rare cases that a bottle of beer is corked rather than capped.
● Choose a dark, cool location such as a basement, cellar, or well-placed closet. A spot that stays around 50 degrees that is subject to little-to-no light is ideal.
● Monitor the humidity. Think about purchasing a humidifier or a dehumidifier to keep the percentage of moisture in the air within the optimal range.
● Buy three bottles of a beer you’re planning to age. Drink the first to establish a baseline for how it tastes fresh. Start the aging process, and plan to drink the second and third bottles at different intervals. Perhaps try one in 3 years and the other in 5 years and compare.
● Each time you open a bottle, make notes. How long was it stored? Under what conditions? If you really like the way one of your aged beers tastes, you’ll be glad to have the “recipe” so you can replicate it.
If you’re really interested in how beer changes over time, aging some craft beer will be fun. You may end up with some real gems—but you should also prepare for some of your aging efforts to go completely bad. In that case, count it as a complete loss and keep going in the hopes of having better luck next time!