Saturday, February 13, 2010

Aging Beer

You are staring at 4 years (2007-2010) of Sierra's Bigfoot Ale, a delicious American barleywine which comes out this time of year. To the uninformed, the thought of "old beer" is probably a turnoff. To the beeradvocate, properly aged (or vintage) brew can be a real treat.

Most people think that wine is the only fermented drink that should be be aged, not true. Various styles of beer benefit from aging as well. Now this isn't for all types of beer. Your typical brew only has a shelf life of about 4-5 months, before it starts to noticeably degrade. The type of beer that may benefit from aging are your big beer styles like barleywines, strong ales, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, old ales and etc. Aging can add a whole lot of complexity to a beer like this. A general rule of thumb is beers over 8% are good candidates for aging.

Starting to age or cellar beer is easy enough. The toughest part is the patience required. If you've got a beer you love sitting around it's real easy to pop the top and quaff that delicious brew. Make sure to buy at least two of every beer you plan to age. You'll want to try one immediately in order to have a baseline in which to compare the aged version. The "second" or remaining beer should be aged for at least a year, but sometimes for several years (some beers can be aged for 15-20 years).

Where the heck do I store this stuff? Most importantly the beer should never come into contact with heat or light. Both will punk your delicately aging hooch. Beer that is allowed to sit in direct sunlight for too long (more than a few minutes) will develop a skunky flavor. You should store your beer in a cool area, away from direct light. Ideally you should store this aging brew at a constant 50 - 60 degrees.

That being said for most people it'll be near impossible to store at those temperatures unless you've got a temperature controlled room in your house. For many people a dark and cool basement is the most practical and best environment in which to age beer.

Counter intuitively, long-term refrigerator use is not ideal. Refrigerators are designed to keep food dry, so dehydration of cork or cap can become an issue (laid-down or upright), allowing the beer to become oxidized.

Now that you know how to cellar, what should you expect a year or more from starting to age your stash. Honestly, no one knows for sure. There are lots of variables that come to play. Some beers age exceptionally well, others don't. One word of advice, big beers like double IPA's that showcase a large hop presence, usually don't get better with age. The hop characteristic tends to degrade quickly with age.

Age some beer,


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