by Chuck Hallett | Beer, much like wine, falls into two distinctive categories: table beer, intended to be consumed as fresh as possible, and cellaring beer, meant to be aged for some time prior to consumption. Cellaring beer is a growing hobby within the craft beer set, and you too can join in for a modest start-up investment. So let’s get cracking.
1. What should be cellared? | Generally high alcohol, high malt beers cellar better than most others. Look for Russian Imperial Stouts and Barley Wines to start. These releases come out from early December to mid-winter, and sell out fast. Other styles that cellar well include Belgian Quads, Tripels, Sours, and Ice Bocks. Driftwood Brewing, in particular, makes a great Barley Wine called “Old Cellar Dweller” that will improve over several years. Don’t be timid, though, all beers will change over time, and most beers are cheap enough that you can experiment.
2. Where should I cellar it? | Not in your garage, and sure as hell not in a closet that seems “kinda cold.” Temperature flux will kill your beer, and anywhere that is either exposed to the outside or to the inside will flux dozens of degrees F per day. You need to either dig a big hole or buy a cheap wine fridge. These fridges range from ~$10 per bottle to $50 per bottle, but for a starting beer cellar you can stick to the bottom end.
3. So I just stick the beer in this new fridge? | Not right away. Open one of yours beers and try it (you bought more than one, didn’t you?). Write down notes to remind Future You of what it tasted like. Don’t be too nice, as Future You is a jerk. He stole all your beer, afterall. Ideally you should buy several beers and sample a bottle every few months. This way you won’t miss it when it gets good.
4. What if I miss it when it gets good? | Don’t panic. Beer, unlike most wines, goes through several periods of emminent drinkability (or “peaks”) as the various compounds settle out.
5. What am I looking for? | No two beers age the same, but in very general, broad terms bold flavours will become less intense, hop aromas (and bitering) will subside, and milder flavours will begin to bleed together. A year or two in you might notice some light caramel coming to the front of a beer that, to start with, was basically all hops.
Chuck Hallett lives and works in downtown Vancouver. His passionate obsession with craft beer borders on insanity. When not attempting to single-handedly financially support the local brewing industry through personal consumption, he spouts off on his award-winning beer-themed blog: BarleyMowat.com. If you’re in a good beer bar reading this, odds are he’s sitting next to you. Be polite and say hi.