Beer, like wine, can benefit greatly from a little time on the shelf. A little extra aging can lead to some complex beer, mellowing of some harsher tasting notes, and a sense of accomplishment that you managed to hold onto that tasty bottle for so long.
But there are some rules that should be followed when starting out, otherwise you may quickly find out you’ve been holding onto a bunch of skunked beer. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Not all beer can or should be cellared
Knowing which beer to drink and which to keep is key. The first thing to look for is a beer that has the words “cellared” or “aged” on it; those are fairly safe to keep for longer. Some breweries are nice enough to let you know on the label that their beer would benefit from a longer stint (like Driftwood’s Old Cellar Dweller).
Don’t age beers like lagers, IPAs, unfiltered wheats or kettle sours. Look more at the porters, stouts, barleywines, strong Belgian ales, barrel aged beers, etc. A general rule of thumb, higher alcohol content means it’ll keep longer in a cellar environment.
Keep it cool
Arguably the most important aspect of a beer cellar is the temperature. Too hot and you’ll speed up the maturation period resulting in off-beer, too cold and there won’t be much benefit to the cellaring process anyway.
An ideal temperature to keep beer stored at is around 12 degrees celsius (55 Fahrenheit). Naturally, keeping it in a dark storage space will help regulate the temperature fluctuation, so think about a closet or a storage space in a dark room.
Try before you buy
Here’s the thing, even with beers that are meant to spend some extra time aging, it’s good to get a baseline of what they taste like. Not only will this give you an opportunity to understand the flavours and aromas the beer has at the time, but more importantly you’ll know if you even like the beer! There’s nothing worse than cellaring a beer for a year or more and realizing you don’t even like it when it comes time to open it.
Tag it, and forget it
Keeping some sort of record of when you initially cellared each bottle will help determine when they should come out. Once you have a rotation of beer coming and going, it can be difficult to remember exactly when you put that beer in storage in the first place. A simple date tag (tape or neck tag) will solve this problem.
Keep it upright
Unlike wine, beer should be stored in an upright and vertical position. Wine typically is laid down so as not to allow to cork to dry out and increase the amount of oxygen into the bottle. While some beers will be corked, the reality is you want to keep the potential sediment at the bottom of the bottle, so it doesn’t end up in your glass.
Open with care
Cellaring beer can often lead to some extra pressurization, so be careful when opening that four year old barleywine. Better to open in a sink and expect some pour over when releasing the cap.
Drink at the same temperature
Look you didn’t spend all this time cellaring a beer just to throw it in the fridge and serve it at an ice cold temperature. You’ll ruin all the flavour you’ve been encouraging this entire time and it’s a wasted effort. Ideally you should serve the beer at the same temperature that you’ve stored it at. So it’s perfectly alright to grab that bottle and immediately serve.