Welcome to the first in a new monthly series where in-house expert Sahara Smith chooses a topic and writes a blog post exploring the topic and offering a curated 6-pack available for purchase at your favorite bottle shop. Let’s turn it over to Sahara:
Cellaring 101: The Art of Delayed Gratification
Beer is a deceptively nuanced beverage. From four basic ingredients (water, malts, hops, and yeast), thousands of unique beers are being brewed every day.
For this first installment of the new blog, we decided to explore the qualities in certain beers that make them ideal candidates for cellaring.
When looking for an appropriate beer to age, there are a few key factors to take into consideration.
Hoppy beers (IPAs, Pale Ales) do not hold up well with age. Hops are very delicate buggers, and their unique flavors fade rapidly.
Beers with a higher alcohol content and bold flavors generally age quite well.
Yeast characteristics will continue to evolve over time. Certain yeast strains will evolve in more interesting ways than others, particularly “wild” strains, and Belgian strains. Beers that derive sour flavors from bacteria will also age in interesting ways.
Beer storage plays a vital role in successful cellaring.
Beer should be kept in a cool environment, ideally between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. UV light is beer kryptonite, so try to store your bottles in the dark (this is less important for Gueuze and Lambic styles, since they contain aged hops).
Over time, all beer will slowly oxidize. In modest amounts, this can add pleasant wine-like notes to your beer, but too much oxygen and your beer can wind up tasting like cardboard. One way to prevent excessive oxidation is to store your beer upright. Some people argue that corked beer should be stored on its side to prevent the cork from drying out, but I personally prefer to store all of my beer upright, as this allows any sediment in the bottle to settle at the bottom.
For this six-pack, I’ve chosen six beers from our inventory that are unique from one-another, and represent six distinct ways that beer can change over time. All of the beers in this pack are either annual brewery releases, or are available year-round. When you’re ready to crack one open, I highly recommend tracking down a fresh version of the same beer to compare them side-by-side and make your own notes about how the flavors have evolved.
Imperial Stout, 10.5%
Oh, Ten Fidy, how I love thee. This was one of the first beers I purchased after I turned 21, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. The fact that it is sold in cans makes it an ideal beer for cellaring, since it is never exposed to harmful UV rays, and there is no need to worry about oxidation due to cork-shrinkage, too much movement, or poorly-sealed bottle caps. It is wonderful fresh, but given time, its alcoholic heat and syrupy maltiness will mellow and develop a heavenly complexity. Give this two, three, four… heck, however many years you can stand. I promise, it is worth the wait.
Belgian Dark Strong Ale, 9.4%
Coming from North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg, CA, Brother Thelonius is an American version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale—by nature a spicy, intense beer with notes or sweet raisins, dates, clove, and far in the background, a tantalizing hint of citrus. After a year or more, the initial heat subsides, the citrus in the yeast opens up, and the sweetness of the malt mellows into a deep stone fruit flavor. Delicious fresh, but marvelous with time. Give it two to four years in the cellar.
Brasserie De Rochefort
Belgian Quadrupel, 11.3%
A true trappist quad, Rochefort 10 is bold and complex, with flavors that develop and evolve with every sip.
In the words of Michael Jackson (no, not THAT Michael Jackson, THAAAAT Michael Jackson), “Rochefort 10 has… a viscous body, and a profoundly fruity, fig-like palate, with notes of bitter chocolate in the finish.”
The brewers at Rochefort recommend aging it up to 5 years. Its sweet spot seems to hover around 3 years, but we’ve heard of folks aging it much longer with interesting results.
Petrus Aged Pale
Flanders Sour, 7.3%
This beer was bottled and sold for the first time due to a special request by Michael Jackson (again, THAAAAT Michael Jackson). Aged for 18 months in oak barrels, this sour belgian pale pops with a bright, almost apple-like tartness, and finishes dry with a lingering aftertaste of peppery oak. After about four years, its sharp acidity mellows into a beautiful round fruitiness.
I could wax on about why you should add Bigfoot Barleywine to your beer cellar, but honestly, Sierra Nevada said it best themselves:
Bigfoot is prized by beer collectors for its supreme cellarability. Under the proper conditions, it can age like a fine wine, developing new flavors and character as it matures in the bottle. Each new release or “expedition” is vintage dated. Collect your own and see the flavors develop and progress.
Barleywines are generally high in alcohol, moderately hoppy, and big in body, with hints of fruit and caramel. American Barleywines, like this one, tend to be more aggressively hopped than their English counterparts, and yes, the character of the hops will fade during cellaring. However, notes of toffee and caramel will become deeper, and slight amounts of oxidation will lend it a lovely vinous quality. Bigfoot will continue to age nicely for up to ten years.
Dubbed “liquid bread”, the first Doppelbocks were brewed by German monks to sustain them during times of fasting. The first commercial example was Paulaner’s Salvator, and as a nod to its history, most Doppelbocks you see today will end in -ator. Celebrator from Ayinger is no exception. At 6.7%, this beer should not be cellared quite as long as some of the others in your six-pack, but a solid year or two in the cellar will bring out its rich, dark plum character, while adding a hint of dry sherry in the finish.
This curated 6 pack is now available for sale at WhichCraft for $25 plus tax. Pick one up and start your cellar today!
2 thoughts on “Sahara’s Blog #1: Cellaring 101”
Since I brew my own beers, cellaring is in integral part of my beer experience; after brewing and bottling, every batch needs to sit it the cellar for a giving length of time. In line with your experience, high-gravity, high-alcohol, and dark beers seem to benefit the most from long ripening periods. Most are drinkable within a week or two, when the buttery diacetyl taste begins to subside, but reach their full flavor potential at 4-6 weeks, and will continue to improve slightly for up to six months – though it’s a rare batch that isn’t completely consumed within a couple of months in our house. The beer I’ve kept the longest, over a year, is an oat stout with an OG of 1.085, an FG of 1.024, and abv of nearly 8%. This brew reached its peak at about 2 months, and stayed that way for 10-12 months. However I’ve notice a slight decline in flavor, in the cardboard direction, after a year of storage in the dark in our basement where it’s about 14-16 C year around. A brew that seems to take a bit longer than most blond beers is Belgian golden strong ale, brewed with “Duvel” yeast, WYeast 1388. This seems to be a function of the 1388 yeast itself. It takes about 6-8 weeks before it develops the pear and grapefruit esters that typify a Belgian golden strong.
A couple of beers I’d recommend to those who like cellared beers would be Kasteel Cuvee de Keyser Blauw, which is aged in oak barrels for three years (if I remember correctly) before bottling, and Orval, which uses a yeast strain containing some Brettanomyces yeast, giving it a flavor similar to aged beers.
Great feedback, thanks Steve! We agree; cellaring is one of the most gratifying things about the beer industry. Thanks for the taking the time to share your thoughts.