Why do you need a craft beer cellar? Well, you don’t need one, but if you love beer tasting, aging many beer styles can awaken new flavors, tame the sting of a high ABV, or smooth out the mouthfeel.
Cellaring can increase a beer’s shelf-life by keeping out harmful light and controlling temperature.
Draft Mag relays that beer “should mature in a cool space, but not your fridge” — that’s why a cellar or basement is ideal.
For long-term aging, the Washington Post agrees. The fridge is too cold, and can slow down the aging process, dry out corks, and let in air that causes off-flavors.
Which beer styles cellar best?
The short answer is: brews with a High ABV. Beer and Brewing notes, “it’s advantageous to cellar beers that are more than 8% ABV. Alcohol acts as a preservative, so higher ABV beers have more time to develop complexities.” Not all high ABV beers are fit for cellaring, though. You’ll want to avoid IPAs and Pale Ales because their hop flavor will fade after a few months. Lagers and heavily fruited beers, like Slushy and Smoothie Sours, should also be enjoyed fresh.
Although beer is diverse and volatile, taste is subjective. So, there is no exact science to how long to age a beer to reach its optimal characteristics. But, through extensive research — a.k.a. tasting thousands of beers — we procured a list of styles we think cellar best. Here are our recommendations for brews found on Tavour that make great test subjects for first-time beer cellars.
Barrel-Aged Stouts and Porters that don’t contain delicate adjuncts
The caveat here is that certain adjuncts (like many dessert additives, artificial flavors, real fruit, cinnamon, and other spices) can fade over time. So, for example, a Dark Beer that tastes like blueberry-cinnamon French toast when it’s fresh can have its flavors “fall off” over time and end up tasting a lot more like watered-down, roasted malts than your favorite sweet breakfast. If you’re going to cellar an adjunct-heavy Stout or Porter, we recommend limiting aging time to 6-months to a year max.
Barrel-Aged Stouts and Porters are particularly excellent choices for cellaring because time can mellow out the harshness of the liquor the beer has soaked up from the barrels. So, cellaring a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout often results in super smooth, oaky-vanilla whiskey flavors minus the alcohol burn that was present when the beer was freshly bottled.
For a few Tavour members’ favorite Barrel-Aged Dark Beers, check out Fremont Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star, River North Brewery’s Rum Barrel Aged Mr. Sandman, and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Bourbon Barrel Baltic Sunrise.
Barrel-Aged Wild Ales and Sour Ales
The shelf-life of a Sour Ale can have a broad range. It can be as short as two months for Kettle Sours brewed with copious amounts of whole fruit or fruit puree added after fermentation. And, it can be as long as the 20+ years for some of the Barrel-Aged Sours from Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks program.
Barrel-Aged Wild Ales and Sours are some of the most interesting to cellar because of how drastically their flavor profiles can transform. While some are barrel-aged in spirits barrels, the majority are crafted in wine barrels or neutral oak. Depending on the makeup of the beer’s yeasts, they could get more sour or vinegary over time, or you might notice an opposite effect — the sourness may mellow out and more funk or fruit character could open up.
We recommend these Sours and Wild Ales frequently requested by Tavour members: Cantillon Brewery’s Classic Gueuze, Jester King Brewery’s Bug Farm Barrel-Aged Wild Ale, and any of the Barrel-Aged Sour Ales from Une Année Brewery’s Le Grand Monde series.
BeerAdvocate cautions against aging American Barleywines for more than two years because of their hop character. Many ‘Barleywine is lifers’ rave that the smoother, less hop-dominate, English Barleywines can be cellared for up to four years or more since they don’t contain the same hoppiness that’s susceptible to losing its potency.
Over time, calming a Barleywine’s booziness helps draw out leagues of toffee, vanilla, and caramel notes that fans of the style love.
Tavour regulars have awarded high ratings to Pelican Brewing’s Mother of all Storms American Barleywine, Midnight Sun Brewing’s Arctic Devil English Barleywine, and Anchorage Brewing’s A Deal With The Devil Barrel-Aged Barleywine.
The ABVs for this style typically range between 7%-10%, making many of them ideal for cellaring. Unlike Dark Beers that often get their spice notes from adjuncts, a Tripel’s spice comes from the brewer’s use of Belgian yeast. Which is ideal for cellaring because that caramel, coriander-kissed, Bananas Foster character holds up for several years and can get deeper and richer, over time.
Regardless of which brews you decide to kick-off your cellaring adventures with, just remember: your ideal set-up will avoid light, heat, and frigid temperatures. Besides that, it’s really up to you to experiment with aging times. It’s interesting to cellar multiple bottles of the same beer and open them at different times or to cellar different vintages. When you’re first getting started, we advise enjoying your cellared beers on the younger end of the cellaring spectrum to ease into learning what tastes best to you, without the risk of spoiled beer.