Cellaring, or storing, beer is one of the latest trends in the craft industry today. If you’re keeping up to date on the latest in the craft world, it won’t take long to notice 2 things that people dive on: cellared beer (especially if it’s 2+ years old) or ridiculously fresh beer. But is cellared beer as good as it sounds? It depends. Let’s break it down in this month’s 101 to give you a clearer picture of what it means to cellar beer, as well as some proper techniques to abide by if you want to try it yourself…
Cellaring beer doesn’t require a whole lot of scientific knowledge, but there definitely is some chemistry involved in cellaring a beer properly. Conditions mean everything, so here are a few key things to look out for:
Lighting – In last month’s Beer 101 where we talked about bottles vs. cans, we mentioned that UV light can destroy a beer’s chemistry, giving the beer a skunky or stale taste. The same holds true for cellaring a beer. Bottled beers need to be stored in a dark place, away from all lighting as much as possible. Having darker glassed beer (i.e. brown) helps tremendously.
Temperature – Temperature is one of the key factors in cellaring. Depending on the style of beer you cellar, the ideal temperature is between 50 and 60° F. Stronger, heavier beers like BA stouts, porters, barleywines, or anything with double digit ABV’s should be stored at 50°-55°, and lighter beers like sours and Belgians should be between 55°-60° to let the organisms in that beer do its magic.
Humidity – Although humidity isn’t as big of a key factor as temperature or light, it does have some significance, mostly for sealing properties. Many of the big beers that cellar well are corked. To keep a proper seal on them means the humidity levels need to be on the higher side. Higher humidity levels mean a stronger seal, due to the swelling of the cork. Low humidity levels can dry out the cork which might cause oxygen to leak in the bottle. Good humidity levels for cellaring are between 55-70%.
Beers to cellar:
Sours (including Flanders, Lambic, etc.)
Almost any beer with an ABV of 10% or higher
Beers NOT to cellar:
TIPA (If less than 12%, and even then, these are much better fresh)
Cellaring can be a great way to enhance a beer’s flavor if done
properly. We always enjoy doing a side by side between a fresh batch and
an aged batch to see what has changed in the beer. Do we cellar beer?
The answer might surprise you, given our love for beer. We RARELY age a
beer for 2 reasons:
1.) We don’t have the patience
2.) We really don’t have the proper place to store it
I know Mike does hoard 1 style of beer for an entire year, which goes against everything we’ve talked about in this 101. Every year when Fat Heads Hop Juju (Imperial DIPA) comes out, he makes sure he has at least 24 of them in his fridge, rationing 2 bottles per month to make sure he never has to wait an entire year to have it again. So, a DIPA (big no-no in cellaring), in a fridge (which one should never age a beer in), for an entire year. Is he crazy? Not really, actually. Fat Heads created some magic in that beer. Although the flavor falls off just a bit, a year old Juju still tastes better than most fresh IPA’s around us.
So if you have the time and the patience to cellar a beer, it’s definitely worth it. Some of the overpowering components can mellow a bit, while some of the other desirable qualities can be enhanced even more. It can also be a great way to put some extra cash in your pocket if you can bear to part with them after cellaring them for a year or two. If you want to know which beers are good sellers, check out sites like My Beer Collectables or My Beer Cellar. This will give you a great head start.