Beer Cellaring 101: The Benefits of Aging Beer
One of the benefits of clearing out your basement and putting things into a storage space is that you can dedicate this new found space to productive activities or hobbies. For example: beer cellaring.
If you’re aging your beer in an at-home cellar, it should be in the darkest, coolest area of your house, which typically would be the basement. If you don’t have a basement, aim to cut down on light and focus on temperature control. The ideal temperature should be around 55 to 60°F year round, but no colder than 40 degrees. Cellared beers, however, will not be ruined by a rapid temperature swing caused, for example, by a power outage. It takes a very long time of being exposed to warmth for beer to “cook” and become ruined. Typically, according to TheKitchn.com and AllAboutBeer.com, all you need for a proper beer cellar is the right room; temperature and light conditions; shelving and refrigeration. Refrigeration, however, can be optional depending on what types of beers you want to keep in the cellar.
How Should Beer Be Cellared?
Whenever possible, beer should be stored upright to allow yeast to settle to the bottom and remain there after the beer is poured, though corked bottles can be stored sideways like wine in order to prevent cork shrinkage.
Equipment needed in the room may include a dehumidifier and/or humidifier, depending on the cellar’s base moisture level. Temperature and light are key variables to control when cellaring beer, but humidity shouldn’t be forgotten, according to KegWorks.com. Too little humidity can lead to corks drying out, and too much combined with loose caps can lead to mold growing in the beer. Ideal humidity level is between 50 and 70 percent. A humidity meter can monitor these levels, and if you are unable to effectively control humidity, an air purifier system may be the key to avoiding problems. Finally, if you are going to invest time and energy into setting up a beer cellar, AllAboutBeer.com suggests purchasing the proper glassware in order to better appreciate the results of your work.
Lighter ales such as kirsch, weiss or wheat beers and lagers benefit from refrigeration, allowing them to be kept at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the cellar. However, not all beers will improve with aging. One expert told the Denver Post that the “vast majority of beers do not improve with age,” that one needs to look for the three ’S’s’ for prime aging: strong, sour or smoked. This would include beers with at least eight percent alcohol or have some acidity or a smoked beer like a rauchbier. Cellaring high-alcohol beers can help to protect the flavor, which often can mellow over time, especially when the beer has a sour flavor to begin with.
Barrel-aged beers can help to further bring out the fruity, oaky notes that cellaring tends to impart, while less hoppy beers such as Belgian dubbels; brown and red ales; porters and stouts tend to hold up under aging because of their prominent caramel and toffee flavors. However, the hoppier a beer is, the less well-suited it will be to cellaring. Citrusy and piney notes imparted by hops can mellow TOO much with age and eventually disappear altogether. Or, according to The Kitchn, they can transform into what has been described as “cheesy” or “litter box” smells and flavors. Beers that have extra yeast left over in the bottle to continue the fermenting process can benefit from cellaring, allowing them to age further.
Cellaring Beer Myths
There are very few hard and fast rules about how long beers should be cellared. Talk to the brewer about the aging process, and taste test your own cellared beers while documenting in a log what beers you have and what changes you see or taste at six-month and one-year marks. Benefits of aging beer, according to CraftBeer.com, include softening and decreasing of harsh flavor notes; allowing flavors to blend, resulting in increased complexity; revealing flavors that remain constant as others fade; and creating a unique beer experience.
Changes to the flavor of beer as a result of cellaring typically are a result of the same chemical reactions that give beer its flavor in the first place. Just because the brewing process may be complete, this does not mean that the yeast, malts and hops in the beer do not continue to change, according to AllAboutBeer.com. Yeast in particular, because it is an organic ingredient, naturally can mutate over time and even acquire bacteriological infections. Cellaring the beer helps to control these processes by controlling light and temperature, which might otherwise lead to a beer going bad if uncontrolled. Beers, however, do not continue fermenting as they age; even bottle-conditioned beers, which do, will only gain a few tenths of a percentage point possibly in the first few months of bottle conditioning.
The Denver Post reports that while it may often lead to better results if an aged beer is unpasteurized or bottle-conditioned, many pasteurized beers can benefit from aging as well. They myth is based on the idea that aging only benefits beers that still contain live yeast; beers that do not simply will not continue to develop sour flavors, and may continue to develop other flavors as it ages.