Black Sheep Wine and Beer Store
Clan of The Cave Beer
by Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck
Have you ever tasted an aged beer? I don’t mean one lost under the couch. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a good aged Imperial Stout! Like wine, many beers benefit from extended maturation, developing higher quality, complex flavors, aromas and texture. Your average beer has a shelf life of 3 to 6 months before the vitality starts to diminish. But some beers have qualities that enable them to keep evolving and improving if kept under ideal conditions. This is called “cellaring” and is similar to aging wines.
If you love hoppy beers like Pale Ales and everyday IPAs or crisp Pilsners, these beers typically are best when freshly bottled, like Tuesday. Store these in the fridge and drink within 3-6 months for the best taste. A bottle of cold lager is refreshing on a hot day, it slakes your thirst, but it’s not going to develop, it is what it is.
Look for bottle conditioned, non-pasteurized beers with higher alcohol (8%ABV +) for potential prospects for aging. A few years aging will gradually round off the sharp edges and moderate the alcohol into richer, mellower flavors that will surprise you! Sour beers are the exception, with lower alcohol, some have the ability to age for a decade. If you see Barrel- aged, Reserve, Special release or Bottle- conditioned (with live yeast in the bottle) on the label, this is a bottle that should improve with some age, maybe for decades. Look to each Brewer for specific guidelines for cellaring.
For best results, store your bottles upright in a moderately cool (55˚ F) place, in the dark with just enough humidity (ideally 50 to 70 %) to keep corks from drying out or becoming moldy. A closet or cellar is usually fine. In Europe, wine is often cellared in caves, because of their steady cool temperature. Do you have a spare cave? That would be perfect! Some breweries actually have Brewery Vaults….
A list of the best styles for aging: Baltic Porter, Barleywine, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Belgian Triple and Quadruple, Berliner Weisse, Dopplebock, Eisbock, Flanders red Ale, Gueuze, Lambic, Old Ale, Oude Bruins, Russian Imperial Stout, Scotch Ale, Vintage Beer, Wood Aged Beer.
There is no exact science to beer cellaring. Most age-worthy beers will be fully matured after 2 to 3 years, some as long as 10 to 20 years, if you have the patience to wait that long! Cellar worthy beers will have noticeable changes as early as 3 months and definitely within 6 months. Most people agree that it’s worth it to buy several bottles or more of one kind so that you can try it at different stages.
The oldest known bottle of drinkable beer is the 1865 (!!) Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, a powerful, rich Burton Ale brewed specifically for expeditions to the Arctic Circle by British explorers. Imagine drinking a beer made in Victorian times! Pair that with some vintage Hostess Twinkies a you’ve got a meal!
© 2013 text Black Sheep Wine Shop
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