Cellaring is Not Just for Wine

  • 07/24/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Michael Koger, Craft Beer Columnist

The rule of thumb for beer is it’s best when it’s fresh.

This holds especially true for beers like Pale Ales and India Pale Ales, whose bitter hop flavors fade within time. However, there are some beers that can withstand the test of time and, in some cases, improve. A new trend has arisen in beer: advocacy of “cellaring” beers. Much like people do with wine, certain beer styles can be set aside for some years and actually develop into more complex beers. So how do you know which styles can be cellared?

There are a few styles that lend themselves to being aged. Imperial stouts, barleywines, quadrupels, and gueuzes are some of the best candidates for aging. Imperial stouts, barleywines and quadrupels typically have high alcohol contents, sometimes ranging up to 20 percent alcohol by volume. This high alcohol content allows the beer to continue to develop as it ages. On the other hand, gueuzes are a class of “wild ales,” which means they are fermented with yeast captured in the air at the brewery. These yeasts continue to work in the beer bottle as it gets older. The main reason for cellaring is to see how the taste develops. Some beers have really strong flavors when they are fresh, but when they’re older, some of those strong flavors mellow out and complement the overall flavor and character of the beer much better.

So, if you’re interested in getting diving into cellaring, here are some easy beers to get you started. North Coast Brewing Company’s Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Stone Brewing Company’s Imperial Russian Stout are both great and easily affordable imperial stouts to age. Old Rasputin is available year round for an average of $8 a four-pack; Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout was just released and retails for around $6 per 22oz bottle. In the wintertime, pick up a six pack of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Bigfoot Barleywine six-pack for $12. This beer ages beautifully throughout the years. Also, Ommegang’s Three Philosophers is a delicious Belgian style Quadrupel that undergoes some awesome changes over the years. Three Philosophers is available in both four-packs and 750-milliliter bottles year round. Gueuzes are rather hard to find, but if you ever see a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze or Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L’Ancienne, grab as many as you can afford.

You don’t need a cave underground with the right humidity level to have a beer cellar. While a temperature controlled refrigerator or room would be ideal, if you have a dark room in your house that is consistently cool, that will work. Keep your bottles standing up (in a box works best) and let them age. I always tell people to try a bottle before you age it. If you buy a four-pack, open one and age the other three. If you’re buying a 22-ounce or 750-milliliter bottle, buy two or three, so you can see how they develop. Then get some friends together in a year or two and see what’s changed. You might be surprised.

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