Why Anyone Can Have a Beer Cellar: And How to Build One
If we beer nerds lived in a perfect world, we’d all have entire climate-controlled rooms—or at least refrigerators—dedicated to beer storage. Sigh. But we live in the real world where refrigerators are stuffed with condiments galore and a constant in-and-out stream of leftovers, and where fitting even a small laundry room into our homes is a stretch. This doesn’t mean, however, that each and every one of us brew lovers can’t have our own beer cellar.
Where Should I Put My Beer Cellar?
The physics of building a beer cellar are actually super simple: look for the coolest, darkest place in your house, which is typically a basement or first-floor closet. Light and heat are the two mortal enemies of beer, kickstarting the oxidation process that makes good beers go bad. To keep beer’s flavors vibrant over a longer period of time, you’ve got to hide your bottles away.
Ideally, you’ll want to find a place in your home that hovers around 55˚F year-round. Above, you’ll see the majesty of my personal beer cellar: it’s nothing but a set of Metro shelves tucked Harry-Potter style beneath the stairs in my basement, which remains a nice, cool 60˚F whether it’s December or July. The natural light coming from the window above the shelves has been filtered by translucent window film, and a refrigerator just out of frame holds the stuff we’ll want to drink soon.
Which Beers Go in a Beer Cellar?
So what bottles do you want to store in your beer cellar? As a general rule, beers with the following attributes do best when kept long-term:
- Higher-alcohol beers (anything over 8 percent ABV, or alcohol by volume) “shield” the beer flavors and often mellow pleasantly over time. Even sour beers tend to age well when they’ve got a high ABV to back them up!
- Beers that have been barrel-aged, like the Bruery’s White Oak (or a lot of their special collection beers) or Unibroue’s Maudite. The beers have already been sitting around in barrels to soak up the wood’s complex flavors; usually, storing them longer in your cellar brings out those fruity, oaky characteristics even more.
- Maltier, roastier-tasting beers like imperial stouts. The fresh pine and citrus notes contributed by hops are usually the first to disappear as any beer ages, but less-hoppy beers like Belgian dubbels, brown or red ales, porters, and stouts hold up better because their prominent caramel and toffee flavors stick around.
- Bottle-conditioned beers, which have extra yeast in the bottle to continue the fermenting process as the beer sits on the shelf. I’m interested to see what happens with my bottles of Allagash Interlude, a Belgian-style ale that’s got two different types of yeast working within it and is wine barrel-aged to boot.
- Beer verticals—like wineries, certain breweries like Stone brew vintages of the same style of beer, each of which is titled by its year of release. Tasting them side by side after they’ve aged lets you see the shifts in flavor from year to year.
As you can see in the photos, my beer cellar contains a mix of things I’ll drink quickly and others that I’m holding onto for a bit. The upper shelf holds our go-to selection of house beers and new discoveries we’ll deplete over the next month or two. Below those are the larger-format bottles that will make a slow rotation into the fridge—the yeasty, high-ABV, and (in my case) often sour beers that might gain a little special something but definitely won’t lose anything by remaining shelved for a few months.
While I could buy a small wine fridge and keep my big-boy bottles stored on their sides under climate control, most beer experts prefer to store their bottles—whether corked or capped—upright, letting yeast and sediment settle at the bottom of the bottle. This generally isn’t too much of a problem if you’re only holding onto beer for 6 months or so, but can be an issue when beers stick around for a few years. For those of you who, like me, have no room to store or plug in a separate wine fridge, I’m telling you not to sweat it. That Metro shelf will hold them just fine.
And, hey, even if you only want to drink IPAs or keep low-alcohol beers on the back burner for a few months, go right ahead—you might actually like the way the flavor shifts as it ages. I feel that way about my beloved Dogfish Head Festina Peche, buying a case every July and slowly making my way through each 4-pack until spring. (I’m finishing this year’s last few bottles right now, in fact.)
What beers are you holding on to in your cellar? Have you made any unexpectedly delicious discoveries when popping open a cellared beer?