People don’t usually think of beer as a symbol of luxury and allure.
When asked to fill in the dots of slowly swirling a glass snifter of ____ in a leather armchair, with a thoughtful look on their face illuminated by a fireplace…Bud Light hardly fits the bill.
And why should it?
There are thousands of exquisite beers that are a great fit for this kind of picture.
If you found yourself on this page, it means that we both know that there is much more to beer than faceless macro lagers, and a glass of beer can be just as fancy as a glass of whiskey, cognac or wine.
Much like these beverages, the taste of beer can be enriched through the process of storing and aging, giving you handsome rewards for delayed gratification.
In some parts of the beer world, aging is a rule – not an exception.
Famed 14% ABV beer Samichlaus of Schloss Eggenberg brewery is brewed every December 6th and aged for 10 months before they even start the process of bottling – not to mention that it becomes more and more complex with every passing year!
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
Once you learn how to do it, aging beer can be an easy, set-it-and-forget-it process, and we did all the research for you to do just that.
You will learn about suitable beer styles, proper storing options, crazy additions you can make to enhance the flavor, and most common mistakes to avoid when it comes to beer storage, along with an infographic you can download.
Before long (at least 3 to 6 months to be exact), you will be able to rename your regular beer-tasting party into a vertical tasting party. How fancy is that?
All of this information can be overwhelming. That’s why we made an infographic and a 3 step beer aging checklist so that you’re in the clear. Whether you’re a young padawan in the beer world, or a seasoned professional brewer looking to stay sharp, here is a visual reminder for you to do just that.
WHAT STYLE OF BEER IS BEST SUITABLE FOR AGING?
Storing commandment #1: The bigger the hops, the bigger the drops
Not every beer style is a good fit for the aging process, no matter how well you execute it.
Let’s start by talking about styles that are widely regarded as a no-no and have a limited shelf life.
If you’re hoping to make that IPA hoppier by storing it in a cellar, you may be in for an undrinkable surprise. Beers start to mellow out after a certain period of being stored.
IPA’s, APA’s and all variations of hoppy styles will lose their much-coveted punch if they are stored for longer periods of time, so they are not recommended for this process. Same goes for lagers and pilsners – drink them fresh and respect the expiration date.
If you win the lottery of being able to sample Pliny the Younger, do it right away and bask in its glory, for it goes away fast!
Storing commandment #2: If it’s malts, you vaults
Heavy, malted styles are a clear contender to be put in a cellar (just so you know, it doesn’t have to be a REAL cellar – more on that later).
Storing wild styles makes them even wilder than they already are, and aging pissed-off bacteria has a possibility of you having one of the most interesting, if not polarizing brews of your life.
Here is a full list of beer styles that would say “I volunteer as a tribute!” if they could talk:
– Imperial stouts (our favorite), and strong stouts in general
– Robust porters, especially baltic porters
– Lambics, sours, goses and every other wild ale variety
– Belgian goldens, anything higher than dubbels (they tend to flatten too much)
– Scotch ales
Remember, malts is the word you are looking for.
Storing commandment #3: when in doubt, go for >7% ABV
You saw a pattern of some big words like robust, heavy and strong up there. It ties into the next commandment – beer will be more suitable for aging the higher the %ABV.
While every person has a different occasion to say “this beer can knock out a bear,” we will go by science and say that your ideal beer to store should be AT LEAST %7 ABV, ideally more.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO AGE BEER
The most literal answer would be – as soon as it’s brewed!
Beer bottles are like a city that never sleeps for yeast bacteria. This bacteria is tireless, and it’s the main culprit for the many changes that the beer goes through.
However, this isn’t the time to get cheeky and be literal. Here is the chart that will help you to gauge whether it’s worth committing time and money into storing beer (hint: it is!):
STORING BEER PROPERLY
You can store beer in a variety of ways.
We are perfectly aware that not everyone has the same criteria for doing this. To make sure we cover every base, we made 3 tiers of how serious we think you’re going to be when it comes to storing beer.
LEVEL 1: BEER ENTHUSIAST
AGING BEER ON A BUDGET, WITHOUT A CELLAR OR A FRIDGE
We know budget can be tight at times. You don’t need to have a wine cellar worthy of MTV Cribs to store beer in a proper and decent way. All you need is a place that will keep your beer in the dark at a constant temperature.
Typical places that work are:
– Closets (you do have a closet…right?).
THE ONE THING TO DO
Whatever you do, do it UPRIGHT. The difference between storing wine and beer this way is that beer doesn’t have a cork, it has a cap. Caps degrade very easily because of how fizzy beer is, and can give out an unpleasant, metallic taste.
Same goes for storing any beer in your fridge, whether you intend to age it or not – upright will always hold a lot better than sideways.
ENEMIES OF PROPER BEER STORAGE
Sunlight is the arch nemesis of beer. Boiled hops and ultraviolet light absolutely never go hand in hand (not even in those crazy lambic brews), resulting in a degraded flavor that can only be described as…skunky. Hats off to the people that did the research, but we wouldn’t like to go to the source and compare notes about this reference.
#2: Difference in temperature
Let’s say that you’ve stored beer in the fridge, “defrosted” it at room temperature, and brought it back again in the fridge. The taste integrity suffers because of the change in temperature. Do that process once again, and you’ll find that your beer tastes pretty bad.
Temperature is not a problem by itself, it’s the temperature variations that are the real devil.
Consistent temperature is highly preferred when you are storing beer. Whether you’re storing in a cold place, or at room temperature (and you’re using common sense and not letting it go out in the sun), you’ll be fine…as long as there are no wild temperature swings (if you want us to say how much, 10 degrees is usually a good rule of thumb. As long as the temperature stays consistent and your beer is out of light, there are no problems with storing it even at 65-70 degrees.
This one is for all the people that have ever written “cardboard” in a beer review. Oxygen is a silent killer that will get you there in no time. It will form free radicals that mess with organic compounds in your beer.
Good news is, every production facility worth its salt will take care of this for you, and all you have to do is pop these suckers in the fridge and drink them on time.
Bad news is, we are in the beer aging business now, and to prevent the issues that come with oxygenation of beer, we have to store them in a way that will not let them take a breather. As long as you stay away from the enemies #1 and #2, oxygen will stay away from your beer.
THE BEER AGING 3 STEP CHECKLIST
Guys, I’m just a casual beer lover looking to age beer I bought in the store.
What do I do? See below:
Got some extra pocket money?
For every 3 month interval of testing, have a fresh one lying around so that you can feel the difference in real time. Bring your beer buddies around, swiggle liquid around in snifters and gasp in amazement at the difference…or lack thereof.
This way, you’ll come to a conclusion when a certain beer is at its best so you know when to get married, buy a house, or do something worthy of a celebration.
…never age a beer you haven’t had fresh so you can tell the difference!
STORING LEVEL 2: HOMEBREWER
You’re more than an enthusiast – you are brewing your own batches of liquid goodness from time to time.
Before you pull the trigger on that huge reclaimed brandy barrel you saw on Ebay, you may consider this sentence to save time, money and most importantly…sanity.
TINY BITS OF OAK ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND.
Oak chips, spirals, cubes, and even teas are a great way to infuse some of that toastiness in your next brew without much trouble.
If you got some fresh oak bits, and you want to tone the overpowering tannin flavor down, make sure to rinse, boil and pre-soak them. This also works if you want to keep your process as sanitary as possible – you never know what kinds of critters were in those woods!
HOW MUCH OAK SHOULD I USE?
One-half of an ounce per five gallons of wort to start, and then adjust them to taste. That’s about one gram per liter for you Europeans.
Let’s break down how fast they work, along with some general tips that we caught along the way.
Oak chips are the poster boy of infusing your beer with wood. “Oak chip” is pretty much a fancy name for a “wood shaving that comes in a bag.” The size of their surface makes this process really fast, but the major con is separating them from the finished beer after the aging process is done.
Oak spirals are a less messy riff on the oak chips. They have a big surface area, making them fast and easy to remove, but this comes with a price. Oak spirals are the method that will set you back for the biggest amount of greenbacks.
Oak cubes are definitely in the “best buy” category if you’re starting out. Their speed may be on the slower side, but this gives you ample time to react to what they are doing to your precious brew. Once you do decide to stop with the oakiness, they are easy to remove.
OAK TEA, OAK ESSENCE
This pricy method is for all the oak hackers out there. It’s like typing a cheat code like “oak_mode” or “get_oak.” But be careful about the amount you’re putting in – it’s really easy to mess it up and become known as the brewer who put a little beer in his oak!
STARTING #KEGLIFE: SMALL WOODEN KEGS
The oak chip/spiral/cube/tea thing wasn’t that interesting to you, or you have been doing it for a while. You want to find out whether #keglife is the right life for you, so you’re getting a smaller keg as a compromise. Whatever you do, be careful about one simple fact:
Smaller keg = more oxygen circulation.
In the homebrew world, there is a term called “angels’ share.”
“Angels’ share” basically describes the portion of your beer volume that is lost to evaporation due to aging in wooden barrels.
In higher humidities, more alcohol than water will evaporate, and therefore reduce the %ABV. Angels’ share even has its own brand of fungus. It’s darkly colored, and its growth is associated with the loss of the ethanol in the product. It grows on trees, buildings, and anything that’s nearby.
Smaller kegs will speed this process up, along with the process of infusing wood into your beer. Age to taste…age to taste, our friend.
STORING LEVEL 3: PROFESSIONAL BREWER
At this point, you’ve been at this for a while. You have all the space necessary to really let your brews sit and become as complex as possible. Browsing barrels on the internet is not your fantasy – it’s your reality.
(If you’re planning a kick-ass anniversary, invite us so we can help you with some *cough* quality *cough* control)
Because of their sheer volume, barrels are for people who are in it for the long haul, so aging times usually START at 6 months. We have already established the connection between fresh wood and harsh tannins, so it comes as no surprise to say that it is usually preferred to barrel age beer in used/reclaimed barrels (not to mention the savings).
Bear in mind that all of these barrels can be interchangeable, and it’s not hard to find a barrel that imparts all of these qualities. An oak brandy barrel can be a retired wine barrel, which has been used for bourbon in the past. The history of the barrels you use will add to the complexity of the beer you store.
GOOD OLD OAK BARRELS
Jack of all trades, oak barrels are a nod to the traditions of olden times and a perfect way to start aging your beer. Best integrated with dark beers, oak is a jack-of-all-trades for that toasty flavor. Whether you go for American (bit stronger, rough), French (bit more porous), German or Austrian oak, we would like to give you a heartfelt welcome into the barrel aging life.
A personal favorite of lambic and belgian ale brewers, this type of barrel brings the funk to the house. Wine barrels are probably the easiest to get your hands on and can work on a wide variety of beers.
These barrels can add a lot of vanilla, coconut, and bourbon (yes, it’s me, Sherlock) to your brew, along with whatever wildcard that the spirit barrels brought to the table. These are the barrels for the brewers that like to be surprised.
If you take everything we wrote about bourbon barrels and take it down a couple of notches, you will get brandy barrels. They are a bit more neutral, imparting less woodiness in the final product.
AGING BEER WITH ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS
We live in an age where regular taste is just not enough. If you’re dead-set on going overboard and making a vanilla sage pumpkin chai latte cherry imperial stout – we’re not judging you. Maybe you might be onto something!
This is an exciting time to be a brewer, and there are a lot of things you can add to make your everyday brew more interesting. We will list some of our favorites, even though the only limit in this is your imagination – and palate!
To make sure that your beer will get no scathing reviews on Ratebeer, be sure to connect fruit and beer styles accordingly. For example, fruits work best with sours and lambics (Lindeman’s Kriek, for example) (alt: if you’re feeling lazy, just check out what Lindeman’s brewery has done on this field)