Beer 101: How To Age Your Craft Beer Like A Fine Wine
A little-known fact about beer: while most bottles are best consumed fresh, some brews actually improve with age. The way their flavours develop depends on the beer: bigger brews get smoother and more complex; malty beers get sweeter; and sour beers get tarter at first, and then more balanced. Here, a four-step guide to aging your brews like a pro, plus some recommended bottles to stock in your cellar.
1. Pick The Right Beer
If a beer’s been pasteurized and filtered (meaning residual yeast and bacteria have been stripped before bottling, which is the case with most mass-produced beers), you’re better off drinking it straight away. Unstabilized brews, on the other hand, continue to evolve once the beer’s in the bottle, making them the best candidates for cellaring. The safest bets include brews that have a high alcohol content, like barley wines, porters and stouts, and ones that contain active yeasts, like sour lambics, gueuzes and Flanders reds (or anything labelled “bottle-conditioned”).
2. Find The Perfect Spot
Light is a beer’s worst enemy, followed closely by heat. Both cause beer to oxidize, which over time makes it taste skunky. Wherever you choose to store your bottles, the area should be dark, cool and not too humid (the optimal cellaring climate is about 12 degrees Celsius with 50 to 70 per cent humidity). A basement or storage locker is ideal, but the back corner of a closet will work in a pinch.
3. Stand Your Bottles Upright
Unlike wine, beer ages best on its feet. Laying bottles down allows yeast to settle along the side of the bottle, creating a cloudy brew when poured (for beers with metal caps, there’s also a risk the liquid will eat away at the plastic lining over time, making the beer go bad).
4. Get Started. Now.
Below, we’ve picked three brews that are currently available at the LCBO: two that you can stock in your cellar, and one pre-aged brew that you can sample right away.
Amsterdam Tempest Imperial Stout
$6.25 | 500 mL | 9.0% ABV
Brewed with four grains, three malts and three hops, this big-bodied beer combines notes of dark chocolate and roasted coffee with a bitter, hoppy finish and a hint of spice. Already aged for three months before bottling, a year or more in your cellar will allow the bold malts to soften, the hops to mellow and the flavours to integrate. The brewery recommends a full three years for ultimate flavour evolution.
Trappistes Rochefort 8
$2.55 | 330 mL | 9.2% ABV
Already one of the best bargains at the LCBO, this world class Belgian Trappist dubbel will flourish under the proper conditions. A two-year stint in the cellar will intensify the brew’s sweet plum, raisin and cherry flavours, and dull the boozy aftertaste. It’s not uncommon for exceptionally patient beer geeks to cellar this one for ten years or more.
St-Ambroise Vintage Ale Three-Pack
$17.95 | 3 x 341 mL | 10% ABV
The ideal purchase for those who want to reap the benefits of cellaring without all the effort. This three-pack contains pre-aged vintage brews from 2011, 2012 and 2013, allowing for a hassle-free “vertical tasting” (i.e. comparison of one beer from several years). Characterized by rich malts, caramelized fruits and a hoppy finish, you’ll notice that the brew grows sweeter the longer it’s cellared.