Beer of the Week: Aging Your Brew

Beer of the Week: Aging Your Brew
John Linn

Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie

will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it:

How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find

it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer

you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

The other night I was sipping on some beers with a friend of mine when we decided to crack open a bottle of Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale that I had been aging since early 2009. I first purchased the bottle right around the time the brew was introduced, and had kept it out of sight in a dark spot above my cabinet for the last year and a half. We chilled the bottle slightly and popped it open. The thick malt poured a deep mahogany color with a dense and creamy head. After admiring it's sweet aroma for a moment, we each took a sip.


It was intense, but not in the way we had expected. The biscuity-sweet

malt had deepened; the nine-percent alcohol burn had cooled into

something creamy and warm. We savored the entire bottle for well over

an hour, discovering new flavors with each taste.

That Double Dead

Guy, a vintage-stamped, limited-edition bottle from Rogue, was the

first beer I had aged for over a year. A process that's typically

associated with fine wines, aging beer (or cellaring) is a technique

that's grown in popularity with the rise of American craft brewers.

Granted, it doesn't work with every beer and the results can vary a

bit. But for dedicated enthusiasts, aging can make enjoying beer a far

more rewarding experience.

First, what happens when a beer gets aged? Well the short answer is

there's no exact formula. What cellaring can do, though, is deepen some

flavors while mellowing others. Usually, a beer's malty characteristics

get pronounced with age, while bitter, tart, dry, or astringent flavors

tend to relax. This means sweet, malty beers can benefit from an

improve depth of flavor with deeper, darker notes like raisin and

coffee, while tart, sour beers tend to mellow and even out, creating a

far more drinkable brew.

But not all beers are suitable for aging. No one wants to see what a

musty Budweiser will taste like after a year in the closet. Even

quality light beers like Brooklyn Lager aren't going to improve over

time.

What cellaring work best for is strong, high-alcohol beers -- brews

that already have great depth of character. Doubles, imperials, strong

Belgian ales, barleywines, and big stouts are all worthy candidates for

aging, as are bottle- and naturally-conditioned beers like lambics and

saisons. A general rule of thumb is a beer should be over 8 percent

alcohol to consider being laid down.

So let's say you've decided on a beer to age. How will you store it?

Well, there's a number of factors involved in cellaring beer, and

they're basically very similar to the conditions in which you'd want to

store any sensitive material. Light and heat are the enemy! If given

the chance, they'll invade your beer, oxidizing it and creating skunky,

musty flavors and stale aromas.

To combat this, choose a cool, dark place to store your beer. You want

the temperature to be as even as possible -- ideally in the 55-60

degree range for strong, big beers, with temperatures dipping down to

50-55 for standard ales and 40-50 for lighter beers. While this isn't

always possible in sunny South Florida, there are some places you can

achieve good results. Personally, I store my brews in a closet

upstairs. I've got a closed cabinet inside it with a towel lining the

bottom, and it seems to work out just fine. I like to homebrew a lot,

and the beer I've made and stored in there just keeps getting better

over time.

Beer of the Week: Aging Your Brew

Another important factor is to store your beer standing up. In the wine

world, people talk about laying wine on its side to keep the cork from

drying out. But there's a lot of debate over this subject. But if

stored properly, the humidity level inside a bottle of beer won't allow

the cork to dry out, at least not for a good 10 years. By storing a

beer upright, you're also compacting all the yeast and particulates in

the bottom of the bottle, which will lead to a cleaner pour once you do

finally decide to crack it open.

And once you do you could be in for a real treat. Aging beer takes

time, know-how, and above all else, patience! It's hard not to want to

drink that Bourbon barrel Alagash you've been aging for months. But

give it time, and you may be rewarded with something far better in the

end.

You can even learn a lot from the process. Buy two bottles of the beer you're going to age -- one to drink now and take notes, and one to try a year or two from now. You may be surprised what you find.

As for my Double Dead Guy, the experiment continues even after I drank

my bottle. I was shopping at Crown Wine & Spirits last week when I

happened upon a bottle of the 2008 vintage tucked far back in the

shelf. I snatched it up, along with another bottle of 2009 to compare

the results. But here comes the hard question: Do I sample both now, or

store the 2008 for a year or more?

Decisions, decisions.


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