To age, or not to age. Part II

On the previous post we discussed some general rules for aging beers. Did you try to age a beer? I did – but it only lasted for one day. It was still delicious! It’s important to know: much like wine, the majority of beer is made to be consumed fresh. Only a particular beer will benefit from aging. So let’s discuss some of the most common types of beers for aging. Judging by type of beer, ABV, and known yeast behavior, the following types of beer are a few suggestions for starting a cellar:

  • Russian Imperial Stout – these thick, high ABV beer’s malts can benefit greatly from aging.
  • Belgian Strong Ale – a stereotypically higher ABV dubbel or tripel-like beer; these beers can turn into some amazing creations.
  • Wild Yeast Beers– this is a broad stroke that may cover many different beers from a saison to a flanders red ale to a lambic or gueuze- where certain types of yeast (such as brettanomyces) can continue to develop complex flavors for years or even decades.
Here is a random sample of a beer cellar. Not all of these beers are available in Arkansas, sadly.

Now that you have the beer – where should you place it? Ideally, it will be someplace dark that has a consistent temperature.  We’ve probably all heard of “cellar temperature;” which is suggested for aging wine and beers: ranging from roughly 45° – 55° fahrenheit.  Whether or not this suggested temperature truly affects the outcome of aged beer is still being hotly debated. The agreed-upon rule for temperature is no swings; no extreme heat and extreme cold from day to day or month to month.  The more stable, the better.  Not crazy and bipolar, like your old girlfriend.

Here is a good beer cellar location - underground,dark, and stable. Plus you have darts and embarrassing photos of your family to make fun of.

Wait – my beer has a cork! Should I age it on the side, like wine? Most corked beers actually use condensed champaign corks that are capped and caged; so the answer is no. Wine corks may dry out after many years, but nearly all beer with corks will be just fine sitting straight up.

I have all this beer – now what? Once you get a good cellar going, you can enjoy one of the most fun aspects of aging beer: vertical tastings. Let’s say you buy the same beer each year for 5 years – for instance Scaldis Noel (amazing beer!). On the 5th year, you can throw a party with your beer-geek brethren and open one beer from each year. Taste how the beer has changed – how it has mellowed, grown more subtle and multifaceted, yet it is the same beer. Comparing and contrasting the age, and deciding which year is best, is great beer-geek fun.

Some beers that age well - even though it seems so wrong.

I just saw some VERY hoppy beers in that beer cellar – you are busted!  Like all rules – they are fun to break.  Some quality beers contain an insane amount of ingredients – which could include hops.  These beers are wonderful fresh…. but some beer geeks have found out that they age beautifully.  The fresh tropical and pine hop flavors decline, but other flavors, originally lost in the pungent hop flavors, will start to evolve and shine through. This is a dangerous game though – some beers will be better fresh than aged.  But sometimes it pays off big time.  Take Dogfish Head Burton Baton: pictured right center.  This is a blended beer (remember this article?) – an old ale and a imperial IPA – that is very hoppy and enjoyable fresh.  Yet after one year of aging, it takes a huge flavor step forward.  It’s still bitter and hoppy, but the malts are deeper, and the oak and vanilla are more pronounced.  I personally prefer this beer aged, rather than fresh.

Now get out there and buy some great beers!  Try a Moylan’s Barley Wine or a St. Bernardus Abt. 12!  Then age them for a few years and reap the flavor rewards.

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8 thoughts on “To age, or not to age. Part II

  1. Jon Saxon says:

    I’ll chime in here a little on aging. Im an IPA guy, you guys know that. I do a lot of homebrew, but also try any new IPA i can find, and have several go-to’s. What draws me to IPA’s is the intense hoppiness. What i’ve found, when i age my IPA’s, is that the longer it sits, the less hoppy it gets. I can see where aging a stout or other style beer could enhance the flavor. IPA’s are meant to be consumed fairly quickly. Pliny is the only bottle in memory where it says right on the bottle not to age it, to drink it. Dogfish Head 120 IPA, on the other hand, says on the label “Ages well”. I dont know how many of you have tried the 120 IPA, but if you think DFH 90 min IPA is hoppy, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the 120, because it isnt really that hoppy at all, but it’ll punch you in the liver.

    1. arbeergeek says:

      You are correct. It gets down to a science – certain compounds that are found in the hop oils parted into the beer break down. So literally, the flavor of hops break down over time. This is simply the beer changing over time – which can be good or bad – and can be good for one person while simultaneously being bad for another. We all prefer different things. 120 minute is considered a beer that ages amazingly, but this is a good example of not taking ingredients, or labels, literally. Kind of like “Big Hoppy Monster” in the above photo – it’s a wonderful beer, but it’s so strong, the mellowing from age does a wonderful justice.

  2. Rex says:

    Great articles on aging, y’all!

    Leads me to a question about freshness and what one might call “unintentional” aging.

    I have occasion to pick up a much broader variety of IPAs every so often. Sometimes it might be three months between trips.

    The last few beers will have been aged for those three months. Am I missing out on their true hop character by letting them sit (cellar) that long. Do I need to drink them up faster, or is there a better answer (I can’t imagine what that would be).

    Thanks for your dedication to beer!

    1. arbeergeek says:

      Unfortunately there is no true right or wrong answer…. but in general – the fresher the IPA – the more hop flavor. So if you are searching for more hop flavor – drink those beers asap. But, in some beers, you may not be able to really tell the difference of a few months. It’s all in the beer, the brewing process, the ingredients, the temperature, the light, the magic mojo, all kinds of variables. I tend to get nervous and worry about IPAs in my fridge that are over a month old. So – drink faster! Here is a great resource to try and check the freshness of your beer:
      http://sites.google.com/site/freshbeeronly/

    2. Jon Saxon says:

      With my homebrew double IPA’s, its amazing the difference between 3 weeks of aging when its first ready to drink and then 2 months of aging where the hop flavor really mellows out. Everyone has their own opinion, but for IPA’s that you buy, the fresher the better. Thats not to say that it’ll taste bad if its 6 months old, it might just not taste the same as a 2 month old beer. If it tastes good, drink it!

    3. redbird says:

      You definitely want to make sure you try it fresh, just so you have something to compare to. Most IPAs are best fresh, but your tastes may vary. It may turn out that you like X IPA 6 months old, but Y IPA you really like fresh.

      Follow that link about freshness though. Depending on the store, some beers will sit on the shelves for months to years. Important to know how fresh it is.

      1. arbeergeek says:

        This is a incredibly correct. I have tasted some IPAs that other beer geeks have ranted and raved about – and they weren’t as good as I’d expected. It turned out I didn’t have the beer fresh. Beer is kinda like people – we all age differently. Some IPAs can withstand months of shelf life and still be awesome…. but some on the other hand – not so much.

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