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.
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.
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.
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.