To age or not to age — is that the question? Nowadays, aging seems to be the answer.
In the craft beer world, trends like cellaring, trading, verticals and bourbon barrels, among other things, factor into building a cellar full of craft beer goodness.
But how do you go about it? Where should you start? What beers should you be on the lookout for?
Bobby Vedder, Retail Development Manager for Powers Distributing and Certified Cicerone, said there are several attributes buyers should look for when picking beers for their cellars.
“You want to find a beer that is not hop-forward. Hops are the first part of the beer to go,” he said. “You want beers with a tremendous amount of flavor. Corked 750 milliliter bottles age the best. High alcohol, say anything higher than six or seven (percent).”
Vedder is a big proponent of the cage and cork bottles. When you can find them, he feels they’re the way to go.
“The cage and cork has really revolutionized beer aging due to the fact that it’s not going to let anything in,” he said. “It’s a process that I think pays off in the long run. It’s elegant and great looking.”
The key with the cage and cork is not letting any air into the bottle, a big factor to take into consideration when cellaring your beer.
“Crown caps have a way of letting in oxygen, hence the movement of craft beer cans,” Vedder said.
Arguably the biggest dynamic when it comes to aging beer is light. It’s important to make sure your beer is absent of any natural light. You’ll want to find a dark place to store your brews.
Temperature is also important.
“If it’s too hot, you’re activating the yeast cells in the bottle,” Vedder said. “It will keep fermenting and making CO2 and the cap will blow.”
OK so, you’ve purchased a few bottles. You’re storing them in their cool, dark and dry home at a constant temperature.
But did you buy enough?
“Go ahead any buy one. You’d better buy two or buy three because then you can drink it fresh,” explained Vedder. “When the next special occasion comes around in about a year, drink it and it’ll be great. And then on the third year give it a try again.”
The length of your aging can vary greatly, which is why it’s important to grab several bottles of the same beer. If you do this year over year, it will allow you to establish a vertical.
“Vertical tastings are awesome,” said Vedder. “I’ve been a part of tastings where I said, ‘You should not have cellared that an extra two years’ or ‘The extra two years on that beer made it awesome.’”
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Different styles of beer will age in different ways. When asked about his favorite style, Vedder said he’s seen the most success aging Belgian brews.
“Belgian style beers have a beautiful way of getting better and better with time due to their high alcohol and low hop content,” Vedder said. “I’d feel very safe saying Belgian beers above 10 percent can go for 20 years.”
Some of Vedder’s favorite Michigan beers to age include those from Jolly Pumpkin, Griffin Claw and Right Brain breweries.
“Dragonmead releases Armageddon in 750 ml bottles. That’s one that I never miss,” he said. “If I had to wait out in line for it, I would. That beer matures beautifully over years.”
As for styles, Vedder feels that many of the Russian imperial stouts could use some aging. He said customers should be on the lookout for non-IPA styles labeled double or imperial.
“The ones that I really like to cellar are the saisons as well. They have a way of really becoming approachable,” he said. “Some of the tartness falls off, some of the citrus tones round out. The brettanomyces comes up and it becomes a funk fest.”
For those who might be looking to get started, Vedder recommends talking to local breweries and finding out when special releases will take place in addition to local establishments.
“Everyone should have a good friend at a liquor store or local market,” he said. “You should know the name of the guy who owns the local store where you buy your craft beer. They can be a big tool to help you out.”
And when you sit down to drink a beer from your cellar or partake in a vertical, don’t forget to share.
“It’s cool, it’s fun to share,” Vedder said. “It’s really part of the whole romance behind the beer. It’s about the experience.”