Aging Beer in the Cellar

A few years ago I shared that I might be the worst craft beer drinker in the world.  And, while that story was true, I didn’t share all of the reasons why I may deserve that title.  Allow me to add another argument to that story today…

When Dana and I moved in together, I brought my liquor collection (I didn’t have a cabinet).  Despite drinking hard-alcohol once or twice a year, I ‘ve long coveted having a liquor collection with the romantic ideal that I could offer a guest the drink of their choice should they come to our house with a thirst in need of quenching.

Amongst the many bottles that clinked and clanged their way up our stairs was a bottle of Chimay Blue Label beer.  Craft beer wasn’t as popular back then and the idea of an imported beer in a 750 ml bottle was a novelty.  The fact that it was 9.0% made it even more so.

I put the beer in the back of the fridge.  I had owned it for a few months and wasn’t sure if it was ‘good.’  Beer is generally at it’s best when it’s fresh and there was a proliferation of marketing about ‘fresh’ beer and ‘best before’ dates across the industry at the time.  Micro-breweries (as they were called then) claimed to be better than the big guys because they ‘had no preservatives’ and the big guys responded with pasteurization and ‘best before dates.’  I also knew very little about preserving.

I tried to ignore the bottle in the back of the fridge.  It stayed hidden (along with a second similar bottle, which I can’t recall) and I was able to ignore it until it came time to clean the fridge.  I didn’t know what to do with it so I decided to ignore it.

I can’t remember when (or why) I decided that it was time to deal with it but it was several years after putting it in there.  The two bottles had sat in the cold, dark chamber for years and I knew I had to be gone with them.

I did mention this was before we immersed ourselves in preserving, right?

I opened the two bottles at the same time.  This would seem to be a cavalier move as both were the size of a wine bottle and both were near 10% in alcohol.  I was by myself and it was early morning.  But I wasn’t worried about it being too early in the day to drink – instead I took a bottle in each hand and drained them down the sink.

GLUG!  GLUG!  GLUG!

I have no idea why I didn’t think of tasting them.  Or doing some research.  I just assumed they had to be bad.  And, in the process, I destroyed what were probably the two nicest beers I will ever own.

The Basics of Cellaring Beer

There is a definitive posting on cellaring beer on BeerAdvocate.com.  If you don’t want the technical guide, here’s the principals I keep in mind when cellaring beer:

  •   Not all beer is meant to be aged.  Most (if not all) commercial beer will not age well and should be consumed 3-6 months after bottling.
  • According to Beer Advocate, common styles of beers to cellar include “vintage beers, barleywines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, lambics, old ales and so on.”
  • Like wine, the issue of storing vertically or horizontally is one of significant debate.  I use both methods (I usually decide based on convenience).
  • Most beer that can be aged is high in alcohol and much of it is fermented in bottle (it has visible sediment at the bottom of the bottle).
  • Some beer (such as this beer of Fullers Vintage Ale which we drank in 2008) are clearly made for aging.  Fuller’s releases it’s vintage age every year (and I’ve cellared at least 2 bottles each year since 2008).  Another example of a beer made for aging is Thomas Hardy’s Ale which has been around since 1968 (some have aged it for up to 40 years!)
  • One of the advantages of aging beer (compared to wine or scotch) is that you can buy it young and, with patience, end up with an rare (and more valuable) product.
  • Buy at least 3 bottles of any beer you want to age.  Drink 1 fresh (keep notes to compare) and age 2.  Not all bottles age equally; if you age two bottles of the same beer you increase the chances of success.  The most common unsuccessful aging results are a loss of carbonation or a skunky taste.
  • Keep beer out of direct light (especially sunlight) and as cool as possible (the ideal cellar is 55 degrees).  I keep most of mine on a deep shelf in the coolest part of our kitchen; the remaining bottles are stored in a container in the basement that keep them safely out of my own reach!

Have you aged beer?  What’s in your cellar that’s waiting for a special occasion?  If you haven’t aged beer, would you now?

Comments

  1. I’ve just started cellaring this year. Muskoka Brewery has been awesome about sending some of their cellar-able beers to Newfoundland, and I joined a beer club that brings in stuff not normally available at our provincial liquor corporation stores.

    Also, sorry to hear about your Chimay – happens to the best of us!

  2. It is probably best I didn’t hear that Chimay story in person as I might have throttled you. It’s forgivable, but only just.

    I will say, there shouldn’t be any debate on bottle-orientation of capped bottles. 100% upright, for anything longer than a few weeks. Those caps are plastic-coated and while they should be inert and harmless, why tempt fate? Corked & caged bottles, I can handle some “debate”, but I still would favour upright, as you will then have a clear and bright beer, that you can choose to agitate and mix-in the lees. Sideways means no matter what it will get agitated when you open it, unless you place it vertical for a few days before opening (and I can’t plan that far in advance).

    • I brew my own ales and beers, a quick tip to preserve the beer for extended periods is to wax seal the crown caps, I do this with a standard candle and have aged some of my beers for 3 years and more.

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