Five Cellaring Myths

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and while that may suggest a rapid diet of various black and green brews, I’m taking this beery holiday to revisit the topic of cellaring. Hopefully after this third installment on the topic, your aged beer will emerge looking more black than green. Today I’m bringing back the venerable “Dr.” Bill Sysak to shine light on five cellaring myths. I’m sure you all have plenty of drinking to get through today, so let’s get right to it.

1. It’s possible to age out all off-flavors.
Sysak: “Yes and no. If a beer is young it can have a green-apple/acetaldehyde taste to it. Bulk aging in a tank prior to bottling or kegging is the best way to combat this, but I have had bottles that have improved with age. Also DMS, or dimethyl sulfides (cooked cabbage) and diacetyl (butter) flavors have frequently shown improvement for me with aging. Infected and oxidized (wet cardboard) beers usually do not improve.”

2. It’s possible to speed up the aging process.
Sysak: “Yes, the higher the cellar temperature the quicker the beer will mature. If you keep beer in your refrigerator with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees, the aging process will be slowed—ideal for hoppy IPAs, pale ales and low ABV lagers. If you place your beers at classic cellaring temperatures, 50 to 60 degrees, they will age quicker. This needs to be a gradual process. You can’t take a bottle out of an ice bath then let it sit out in your backyard for a week in the summer and expect good results. I’ve actually aged the same vintage of cellarable beers at three different temperatures simultaneously with great results.”

3. Only bottle-conditioned beers are worth cellaring.
Sysak: “A bottle-conditioned beer is metabolically active. The yeast will continue to convert sugars and transform the beer. The removal of the yeast from the bottle largely halts the positive changes found in the aging process. That being said, don’t be afraid to experiment with non-bottle-conditioned beers. If a barleywine is not bottle conditioned it will still pick up subtle nuances from aging that can be positive, like oxidative properties. Let’s just say bottle-conditioned beers are worthier.”

4. You have to cellar a beer for at least a year to see a difference.
Sysak: “False. Beers begin to change the day they come out of the tank. IPAs show signs of deterioration within a few weeks. Cellarable beer will have noticeable changes as early as three months and definitely within six. If you have the beer budget, I recommend you purchase enough of a particular beer to try every three months for two to three years. If you notice the beer has peaked, it’s time to refrigerate and enjoy them as soon as possible.”

5. A beer that’s less than 6%-ABV shouldn’t be cellared.
Sysak: “False, although using the 8% ABV or higher rule for most ales and lagers is wise. Lower ABV sour beers like Flemish reds, oude bruins, lambics and gueuzes have the ability to age for decades. Although the acetic and acidic notes may lessen, many of them continue to evolve into amazing beers.”

There you have it, a cellaring “MythBusters” of sorts. In case you missed it, read about how to build your cellar with Stone’s brewmaster Mitch Steele, or check out how beer styles evolve over time with Bill Sysak.


Posted on Thursday, March 17th, 2011
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