I’m not a big wine fan, so honestly, the thought of buying wine and holding on to it, until it has aged, doesn’t really get me excited.
Jason on the other hand, has started to build the wine cellar, and has been buying interesting wines that aren’t great now, but should be amazing in a few years.
So, when I heard that cellaring BEER was a thing, my interest was piqued.
Let’s get honest about this, cellaring beer isn’t a new thing. In fact, storing beer and allowing it to age, has been done for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands of years.
The explosion of beer styles that are flooding the craft beer market have made cellaring beer, the new, “cool” thing to do.
Surprisingly, there are lots of great, accessible beers on the market, which are perfect for cellaring. Knowing this, I started researching the keys to cellaring beer with success.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the important steps to success, when it comes to cellaring beer, and give you a list of beers to consider for your cellar.
Keys to Cellaring Beer
Not only does a beer need to have the makeup to age well, it also needs to be aged in the right environment. Follow these general guidelines when choosing the best place to start cellaring beer.
Beer ages fast when warm and slow when cold. For ales, an ambient temperature of 55º F (13º C) has been found to be a good compromise, but one could certainly go as high as 65º F (18º C) or as low as 45º F (7º C) and still attain respectable results.
No matter what, never exceed the fermentation temperature.
Almost more important than the cellar temperature at any given moment is the potential for change in cellar temperature. Steady temps enable aging processes to occur cleanly and completely.
If this isn’t possible, a good solution is to utilize Styrofoam wine boxes to insulate beer from temperature fluctuations.
Though brown glass blocks the majority of damaging UV rays, given a few years, even artificial light will skunk the beer if exposed. Avoid the decorative wine racks and keep your vintage beers in the dark.
Not an issue except for cork-enclosed beers. If aging more than a year or two, wax-dip the corks to prevent drying, or ditch them altogether. Be wary of refrigerators that experience very low humidity levels.
The hottest debate in the vintage world. Stored horizontally, beers maximize the surface area of the trub and head space, optimizing the secondary conditioning that occurs in the first year.
However, after that, the large trub surface area increases the potential for autolysis flavors (blood, rust, and teriyaki). Turn them vertical after a year, otherwise just storm them standing.
Picking the Right Beer to Cellar
Don’t think too hard on this one. Picking beers to cellar doesn’t have to be difficult and really your reason for cellaring a beer could be as simple as finding something you like and wanting to save some for later.
We’ve done this with Fort Collins Brewing’s Red Banshee. When FCB went out of business we snatched up a case, and have been saving it for a special occasion.
Pretty much any type of beer can be cellared, with some consideration for the style and typical aging process. There are however, certain criteria that do improve your chances for cellaring beer successfully.
- ABV: Alcohol by Volume is actually really important to cellaring. The higher the ABV, the lower chance you have for spoiling. When buying a beer to cellar, look for a high ABV, at least 8%.
- Yeast Type: Brettanomyces is the common yeast used in Belgian beers. This yeast changes the flavor of beer as it ages. It is also relatively hardy, so it can last a long time in the right conditions.
- Barrel-Aged: These beers, when young, typically have strong, robust flavors. During aging, these flavors will mellow out and create a smooth, easy to drink beer.
- Reserve Beers: Yes, brewers do want you to cellar their beer. Reserve beers are made in small batches and are often meant to be aged before drinking.
- Smoked Beers. The phenols in these beers aid in aging, even though many are low in ABV.
It’s also a good idea to buy a few of each beer you are cellaring. Drink one right away, drink one a year or two later, and then drink the final bottle five years down the road.
Create a journal and document the way the beer changes over time. This will help you decide which beers best fit your tastes after cellaring.
Where to Cellar Your Beer
Like wine, the key to successful cellaring of beer boils down to consistency. If you have a wine cellar, and have some space, consider storing your beer with your wine.
For best results, beer should be kept in the dark, since light will react with the acids in the beer resulting in that “skunky” taste that no one likes. Cool temperatures around 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for beer.
However, if you want to cellar lower alcohol beers or hoppy IPAs you will want to store them in your refrigerator. The cold temperatures will keep the hop oils from spoiling.
Remember, it’s the extremes that will ruin your beer, so avoid getting it hot or freezing beer, for best cellaring results. Don’t worry if you pull a beer from your cellar and don’t get around to drinking it.
Just put it back in the cellar and return to it when you’re ready. These gentle temperature swings won’t hurt your beer.
How to Cellar Beer
For best results, and to keep track of your beers, start by labeling your beer with the date you started aging it, and then put it away. It’s really that simple.
There is some debate about whether your beer should stand or lay down. Honestly, with beer this isn’t as important as with wine. Beer standing up will keep musty flavors from leaching into the beer, if it’s corked.
Standing up will also keep sediment at the bottom of the bottle, keeping out of your glass. However, laying beer down is space saving, and works great if you already have a wine cellar.
Also, laying beer down increases the surface area of the air-gap, allowing yeast in the beer easier respiration. Either way is fine, we’d suggest experimenting with this, as well. See what works best for your cellar and your tastes.
Finally you’re at the waiting game. A good rule of thumb is to cellar beer for at least one year. But when it comes to time, this is really where the experiment happens, and why labeling your beer is so important.
Some beers are great after a year and horrible after 5 years. While others don’t really open up for ten years or more.
Again, we’d suggest starting a journal and cellaring more than one bottle of each beer. Find the beers that cellar best in a variety of times, for a robust and versatile beer cellar.
Still Not Sure Where to Start
As with wine, there are certain beer styles that are more suited to aging than others. As we mentioned before, select beer styles that have high (greater than 8%) AVB and are generally malty. Here are the best styles for cellaring:
- Belgian Strong Dark Ales
- Farmhouse Ales
- Barley Wines
- Imperial Stouts
- Old Style Ales
- Smoked Beers
- Pale Ales
If this doesn’t narrow it down for you… Here’s a list of some beers that are good recommendations for cellaring.
Keep in mind, we don’t have all of these, but they are popular on many cellaring lists, so experiment, and Good Luck!
|Sierra Nevada||Bigfoot||American Barley Wine||9.6%|
|Founders Brewing||Old Curmudgeon Ale||Ole Style Ale||9.8%|
|Unibroue||Trois Pistoles||Belgian Strong Dark Ale||9.0%|
|Brooklyn Brewing||Black Chocolate Stout||Imperial Stout||10.0%|
|Bell’s||Expedition Stout||Imperial Stout||10.5%|
|Alaskan Brewing||Smoked Porter||American Rauchbier||6.5%|
|Boon||Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait||Oude Geuze||8.0%|
|Stone||Double Bastard||American Strong Ale||11.2%|
|Portsmouth Brewery||Kate the Great||Russian Imperial Stout||12.0%|
|Boston Beer||Samuel Adams Utopias||American Strong Ale||27.0%|
|Goose Island||Bourbon County Stout||Imperial Stout||14.5%|
|Deschutes||The Abyss||Imperial Stout||11.0%|
|Three Floyds||Dark Lord||Russian Imperial Stout||15.0%|
|The Alchemist||Heady Topper||Imperial IPA||8.0%|
|Founders Brewing||Canadian Breakfast Stout||Imperial Stout||10.6%|
|Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus||Westvleteren 12||Quadrupel||10.2%|
|Weyerbacher Brewing||Blithering Idiot||Barley Wine||11.1%|
|Avery Brewing||The Reverend||Belgian Strong Dark Ale||10.0%|
|Left Hand Brewing||Smokejumper||Smoked Imperial Porter||8.8%|
Did we miss any great beers that need to be cellared?
We’d love to have suggestions to add to our collection. Let us know about your favorites in the comments!