Like wine, most beer is sold ready to drink. All the necessary aging and fermenting has been taken care of by the brewery, so for more beer, cellaring doesn’t provide any benefits. The beer won’t be any better than when you bought it. For certain beers, however, cellaring a bottle for a few extra years brings out a new bouquet of flavors. Old tastes fade away, new flavors emerge, and the beer takes on a complexity it didn’t have when you bought it.
The challenge is not only understanding what types of beer cellar well, but under what conditions. Like wine, beer thrives in cool, stable conditions that are difficult to replicate in the average home. Without a proper cellar, beer lovers wind up sticking their bottles in basements, closets, or under sinks, anywhere dark with stable temperatures. This is an uncertain strategy at best. Much better to store and age your beer with a NewAir beverage cooler or NewAir dual zone wine and beverage cooler. They provide complete control over temperatures and complete protection from heat and other environmental fluctuations that can damage the aging process. The result are beers unlike anything you’ve ever tasted: stronger, sweeter, and mellower.
Why Cellar Beer?
All beers require some aging during fermentation, but unless you’re brewing beer at home, this process is finished by the time the beer’s brought to the store. Whatever yeast is left inside won’t be contributing much to the flavor, especially in macrobrews such as Budweiser, Coors, or Miller. But a new generation of brewers and adventurous collectors are giving beer a whole new life. They’ve discovered that aging certain styles of beer alters its character in delightful and interesting ways. Harsh tastes mellow and new tastes emerge. Because no two beers are ever quite the same, no two beers age quite the same. Different tastes and textures emerge as they mature. Depending on the style, you may experience some or all of the following in aged beer.
Effects Of Aging
|Increased Bitterness||Increased Harshness||Increased Sweetness||Increased Ribes|
|Increased Bread Tastes||Increased Metallic Tastes||Increased Earthy Tastes||Increased Straw Tastes|
|Increased Wood Tastes||Increased Vinous (Wine) Tastes||Increased Meat Tastes||Decrease in Fruity and Floral Esters|
If a beer cellars well, it’s most likely to become sweeter over time. Many collectors report that aged beer tastes like sherry or desert wine after a few years of cellaring. They’ve found hints of currant, chocolate, honey, and toffee. When a bottle of 140 year old Ratcliff Ale was discovered in 2006, it supposedly tasted like a smoky Christmas pudding.
What Beer Should You Cellar?
Not every beer cellars well. Some just don’t hold up well when left to themselves. Focus on beers with high alcohol content. Alcohol resists contamination and spoilage. It also absorbs reactive oxygen species (free radicals) formed when oxygen seeps into beer through natural diffusion. Though some oxidization is necessary for the aging process, too much damages beer’s flavor compounds. Alcohol limits these reactions. It’s one of the reasons why liquor has a longer shelf life than beer and wine. A stronger alcohol profile gives beer a smoother, mellower taste when it ages.
Never age beer with less than 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Their taste is going to deteriorate after a few months. Beers with 5 to 7.5 percent ABV can be stored for approximately two years before they start deteriorating. Beers with 7.5 to 10 percent ABV may actually need a few months before they’re ready to drink at all, but should last for approximately 5-10 years before they deteriorate. Beers with more than 10 percent ABV, like the Ratcliff Ale mentioned previously, can last for over a decade. They’re the type of beer that absolutely needs aging, probably 1-2 years at least before they’re ready to drink.
Besides alcohol, you should also look at style. The style of beer plays a big role in the aging process. Hops and other bitter compounds degrade very quickly, so pale ales and IPAs are going to taste pretty flat if you leave them in a cellar, NewAir beverage cooler, or NewAir dual zone wine and beverage cooler for more than a few months. The residual sugars in dark beers and malt beers do much better. Their residual sugars soften as they mature, creating a satisfying taste that holds up even after years and years. Dark beers also have a higher concentration of flavor compounds with antioxidant properties (carbonyls, Strecker aldehydes, furfural alcohols, and Maillard reaction intermediates) that enhance long-term stability. They delay oxidation, perhaps the most critical chemical process involved in aging. It’s the primary reasons light -colored beers age so poorly. In these beers, oxidization triggers the formation of trans-2-nonenal, an unpleasant tasting chemical with a low flavor threshold. People can detect it even when it’s diluted to 0.1 parts per billion. On the other hand, when dark beers oxidize, the Maillard intermediates trigger the formation of a wide variety of sweet tasting chemicals such as benzaldehyde, which tastes like almonds.
You’ll also want to cellar beer with some residual yeast in the bottle. These are known as bottle-conditioned beers. You can normally find it printed on the label. Most of the time the yeast in these beers are inactive, but sometimes active yeast will be put in instead, so the beer continues fermenting as it evolves. Either way, bottles with yeast age better than bottles without it. Yeast is responsible for a number of flavor compounds such as acetaldehyde (green apple taste), diacetyl (butter taste), cloves, dimethyl sulfide (sweet corn taste), and fruit esters (common tastes include bananas, strawberries, and apples).
Labels and Styles
Though there are exceptions, the beers that age best are barleywine, imperial stouts, old ales, and Belgian strong ales. If you’re looking for a specific label, here’s a list recommended by beer lovers who have experimented with home cellaring.
|Palo Santo Marron||Bigfoot Barleywine||Abyss Imperial Stout||Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout|
|T. H Harvest Ale||Adam Old Ale||Expedition Stout||Stone IRS|
|Three Philosophers Quadrupel||Seared Palate Barleywine||Thomas Hardy Barleywine||Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze|
|Dark Lord Imperial Stout||Goose Island Bourbon Country Stout||Kate the Great Imperial Stout||Westvleteren Quadrupel|
Keep an eye out for these brewing terms as well: reserve, brettanomyces, vertical, and barrel-aged. They’ll help you identify beers that age well. “Reserve” means the beers is part of a reserve series and often designed to be aged. “Brettanomyces” is a Belgian yeast brewers add to beer during the final stages of fermentation. The yeast gives the beer a unique sour, citrus, vinegar flavor, but it takes several months for it to fully develop. “Vertical” refers to the brewer’s preferred storage method. Beers stored vertically supposedly age better than beers stored horizontally (see below). “Vertical” beers are normally released only once a year. Fans are supposed to collect and age them. Finally, “barrel-aged” means the beers have been aged in wooden casks, which indicates their flavors will mellow nicely with age.
How Do You Cellar Beer?
To cellar beer, you need three things: darkness, coolness, and consistency. Darkness keeps beer from skunking. Beer is extremely photosensitive. When it absorbs ultraviolet and other visible light, it triggers a transformation in the isomerized alpha acids in the beer’s hops, transforming them into 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, a chemical compound similar to the spray emitted by skunks – hence the term “skunking.” The best way to avoid skunking is to buy beer in dark colored bottles and keep them out of direct sunlight. The NewAir AWB-360DB Dual Zone Wine & Beverage Cooler, as well as our other beverage coolers, the NewAir AB-1200 126 Can Beverage Cooler and the NewAir AB-850 84 Can Beverage Cooler, come with double pane glass doors that resist and partially block UV light. They don’t provide complete protection, but it’s an added layer of security for beers that need to be kept safe for months or even years.
The ideal storage temperature of any beer you’re trying to cellar is 50°-55°F. Like wine, beer responds strongly to temperature. Heat accelerates the chemical reactions in the beer, such as oxidation, the degradation of amino acids, and the development of (E)-2-nonenal potentials (they’re what give aged beer its vinous, bready, and sweet tastes). For every 10 degree increase in heat, the aging process is accelerated by two years. Unfortunately, not all the reactions in your beer accelerate at the same rate. Some react at lower temperatures, while others react at high temperatures and throw off its taste. At 50°-55°F, for instance, the sweet flavors created by the interaction of amino acids and Maillard intermediates perfectly mask the stale, cardboard flavors that develop as a byproduct of oxidation. Adding more heat increases the rate of oxidation faster than the amino acids and Maillard intermediates can cover them up, ruining your beer.
Before the development of refrigeration, cellars were the only place it was possible to consistently maintain 50°-55°F temperatures. Of course, even they weren’t perfect. Even the best cellars experienced some degree of fluctuation during summer and winter and it’s the reason why so many people are switched to modern refrigeration methods such as the NewAir AWB-360DB Dual Zone Wine & Beverage Cooler, the NewAir AB-1200 126 Can Beverage Cooler, and the NewAir AB-850 84 Can Beverage Cooler. They use compressor cooling systems capable of maintaining tight temperature controls even under harsh conditions. The triple layered insulation and double pane glass doors trap cool air and prevent external heat sources from upsetting the storage environment.
Vertical vs. Horizontal
For some years there’s been a debate about the right way to store beer bottles. Many people have thought they should be stored horizontally like wine bottles because it kept the beer in contact with the cork and prevented it from drying out. Dry, cracked corks allow oxygen to seep in. However, new research is beginning to swing opinion back round the other way. Storing beer vertically allows sediment to settle down at the bottom, so it doesn’t end up in your glass when you pour it. Advocates of the vertical storage method also remind us that keeping bottle upright minimizes the surface of the beer in contact with the oxygen in the bottle’s headspace, which slows oxidation.
Regardless of which side of the debate you come down on, modern beverage coolers like the NewAir AWB-360DB Dual Zone Wine & Beverage Cooler, the NewAir AB-1200 126 Can Beverage Cooler, and the NewAir AB-850 84 Can Beverage Cooler let you exercise both options. Their removable design lets you move the shelves up or down, so the storage space is completely customizable. The shelves and wine racks in the NewAir AWB-360DB Dual Zone Wine & Beverage Cooler can actually be swapped between zones, providing more flexibility for your wine and beer storage.
How Long Should You Cellar Beer?
The best part of cellaring beer is it’s not an exact science. There’s no way of telling precisely how long a beer will take to mature. It’s mostly a matter of taste, so experiment! Buy a case of good beer, load it up in a NewAir Beverage Cooler, and start saving it for later. Write the date on the label to keep track of how long you’ve had it and drink at least one right away before you start. It’ll be the baseline you use to evaluate others to as you go. The remaining beers should be drunk periodically at regular intervals. It could be every three months, every six months, or every year, whatever you think is best. There’s no wrong way. Some collectors keep a notepad to jot down their impressions as they drink each one. The only piece of professional advice to keep in mind is some beers have multiple peaks. A beer that tastes good after 30 months may be lousy after 36, but great again by 42, so don’t give up when you drink a bad bottle. Leave the remaining bottles alone for a few months then come back to them. You might find the experience is totally different than the one before.