This segment can be found in Episode 77 Of The 40cast released on Dec. 18, 2011.
So you have probably heard me talking about “cellaring” beer for 6 months to 2 years in order to age it for better flavor. I am sure you are asking yourselves what I am talking about, so here is your explanation.
What is cellaring? When I talk about putting a beer in the cellar for some length of time I mean setting it aside in a cool dry place for a time period in order to enhance the overall flavor and smoothness of the beer. This is not recommended for all beers, but certain beers can really benefit from additional aging prior to consumption.
What to cellar? Typically beers with a higher ABV (greater than 6% and above 8% prefered) will benefit. The reason being some higher alcohol content beers tend to have sharper finishes and may not be as palatable due to the brewer trying (and sometimes failing) to balance the malts and hops and still provide a high octane brew. The hops may overcome the grains, and by aging the brew the flavors mellow slightly. Beers with higher hop concentrations also can stay fresh longer due to the hops acting as a preservative. The exception to this rule is the IPA because typical American IPA styles tend to use flavorful hops which tend to lose their distinct flavors over time. Usually beers with darker coloring are cellar-worthy candidates, although I have had some good lighter colored Belgium Ales. Bottle-conditioned beers (beers that finish off their fermentation process in the bottle) are good ones because some of the yeast is still present in the bottle to continue eating up sugars and actually evolve the beer to a new level. The best beers to cellar are barley-wines, barrel-aged and winter beers (full bodied beers with strong malty flavors and higher hop content).
How to cellar? So you want to find an out of the way, cool, dark and dry place that does not fluctuate temperature drastically (should maintain about 55degrees Fahrenheit). The best places are in crawl spaces, basements and closets…and if you are fortunate enough to have the space and money, then you can build your own cellar room in the basement. Unlike wine, you want to store your bottles upright. This keeps the yeast and sediment at the bottom of the bottle where it will not affect the flavor. If possible try to have at least two bottles in the cellar so you can try one at a predetermined time and another at a later time to compare tasting notes of your work. Oh yeah, you might want to have a log with the name of each beer and the date you placed it in the cellar. Use a label sticker on the bottom of the bottle to index your collection. Another option is to keep your beers in a cardboard carton and write the dates under each beer.
Why cellar beers? The main reason is to experiment. Some might even say it’s a game of chance as you gamble the cost of the beer on the possibility of unveiling a wonderful new beer drinking experience. I think the best reason to try and cellar beers is to attempt to create a smoother and more enjoyable beer drinking experience from a beer that may be hard to drink at a younger age. That is why I almost exclusively cellar barley-wines. These 12-14% behemoths taste horrible until after 2-3 years of aging. Then they become a more deeper flavored and smoother beer to drink. Cellaring beer also is a lesson in patience and self control. Vic himself said he could never keep a beer for 1-2 years, he would just drink it up. As we have all learned over the last few months, craft beer is not meant to be guzzled, it is meant to be savored and consumed for the beer tasting experience.
NOTE: In the audio segment I may have overstated the increase in ABV in my example. Thanks goes out to listener John R. from Seattle for writing in and providing good feedback and explaining the why my statement was not plausible.
Listen to the audio segment of the Brew Buzz below: