First, the volatile hop aromas and flavors break down. Residual sugars in the beer soften and rough flavors smooth out. Oxidation adds its own nutty and sherry-like flavors to the beer. An aged beer will have shades of its former self, but will definitely take on plenty of new flavors and aromas.
In the majority of beers, the ones that expire after a year, these kinds of changes aren't very desirable. But in a small handful of beers, these changes are very desirable indeed!
High-alcohol beers (8% or more) do very well when aged because the alcohol acts as a preservative and the bold flavors in these "big" beers age gracefully. Lambics and other sour beers also do well because the lactic and acetic acids help preserve the beer. "Dr." Bill's list of favorite beers to age run the gamut from barleywines and imperial stouts to wee heavies and Flemish reds.
Once you have a beer that you think will be a good candidate for aging, the next step is finding a place to store it. "Dr." Bill says that the ideal temperature for aging beer is around 55°F, and you want it to be fairly consistent. The best spot around the house will usually be a closet. Keep the bottles away from the light, which can cause skunking. It's also fine to store them either upright or sideways as your space allows.
Plan on storing your bottles for three to five years. If you have the space to store multiple bottles of the same beer, it can be fun to open a bottle every few months to see how it's aged.
Fun, indeed! Aging favorite beers really presents a whole new arena for beer lovers to explore.
We'll have a full review of this fantastic new book from Stone Brewing Co. soon. If you want to check it out before then, you can find it here:
• The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner with Randy Clemens, $15 on Amazon.com
Have you tried aging beers?
Related: Barrel-Aged Beers: Loving or Hating?
(Image: Emma Christensen)