At some point in your life, you’ve most likely collided with the term “things get better with age.” For the most part, this philosophy is applicable to human beings as a whole. Most of us get wiser, adapt better to the rigors of life, and overall just get better as time goes on. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but maturity can do a lot for the human psyche.
Personally, I’ve noticed my own tastes and appreciations evolve as I’ve “grown up.” At a younger age, I absolutely despised coffee and wanted nothing to do with it in any capacity. Today, I’m not the type to drink it daily or cite trouble starting my day without it, but I don’t mind a decent cup o’ joe from time time. Same with wine. At a younger age, I couldn’t get into it. Now, I’m a fan. Beer enthusiasts will probably cite a similar evolution in their tastes for artisanal crafts. It’s all about evolving and developing appreciation over time.
With age comes an improved product, regardless of the subject matter. That said, the aging of adult beverages has been a time-honored tradition that has been utilized to amplify the overall flavor of the products we consume. When it comes to beer, questions often abound about when it’s advantageous to drink a beer immediately, when to stash a beer for future enhanced enjoyment, and what styles are best to age.
According to our friends at Dogfish Head Brewing, one of the world’s most renown, unique, and innovative craft breweries, there really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to aging your brews. However, there are some important points you always want to consider. For starters, hops fade with time whether they are of bitter, floral, or citrusy character, thus making hop-forward brews like IPAs a style you want to not age and consume young.
Contrarily, an IPA like Dogfish’s 120 Minute IPA is an absolute grand slam when aged! As Dogfish point out, 120 Minute aged for a couple years amplifies the sweet sherry and marmalade notes. I experienced an aged 120 Minute recently and was thoroughly impressed. It was less hoppy as their potency had diminished with age, but spoke more to the aforementioned notes and overall sweetness.
Another thing to look at are the ingredients that make up the beer. A large amount of seasonal offerings contain the freshest of ingredients and, therefore, should be drank at the freshest point possible for peak enjoyment. In addition, beers brewed with fruit are best served young because those notes excel early and fade over time.
The best beers to age are typically of higher alcohol by volume (ABV), or lower ABV but higher malt-profile. The higher alcohol brews often sport more complexity and, with age, some of that initial edge vanishes and you get left with a smoother finish. Matt Brynildson, brewmaster for Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles, CA, recommends aging “wild beers such as lambics, guezes, saisons, and other beers that use organisms other than yeasts to produce flavors, and strong beers with high alcohol contents like barleywines, porters, and imperial stouts.”
A couple quick tips for aging:
- Always store your beer upright
- Store in a dark place
- Proper temperature range should be between 55 and 65 degrees
- Realize there’s no exact science to know when it’s best to open up your aged beer and enjoy. It often comes down to experimentation, as well as trial and error
- Beer doesn’t go bad. Some age better, but it will never spoil. Some beers just won’t taste the same over time
BeerAdvocate has a great Cellaring/Aging Beer Forum you can reference for user experiences and more in-depth knowledge on the aging process.
One important factor to remember is the fact that tastes are subjective. When it comes to beer, we all look for different aspects to stand out and captivate our palates. That said, one suggestion Dogfish makes is to grab a few beers, try one fresh, then stash the others. In six months, crack open another and determine whether you like where it’s headed. If so, keep the rest aging. If you preferred the fresher version, there’s no point in letting them age further, so finish them off now.
The aging process can lead to a tremendous payoff in final product for particular styles of beer. If you’re like me, you’re anxious to dive right in and see what’s happening inside that bottle. But we can all exercise some restraint and let a couple bottles mature for amplified satisfaction down the road. Trust me, there’s enough beer to keep us in check until the time is right.