Begin your cellaring journey with this introduction to aging beer.
Food Loves Beer Editors
6 TIPS TO GET YOUR BEER CELLAR STARTED
With an overwhelming number of breweries worldwide producing beers suitable for aging, there is no better time than now to start your own collection. The thirst for great beer spans the globe, and regardless of where you live you can find an extraordinary array of cellar-worthy brews. Here are a few tips to guide you through the process of choosing, storing, and most importantly enjoying these fine ales.
1. Choosing the right beers.
The first, and most obvious step is to know which beer styles are most suitable for cellaring. Alcohol content alone isn’t enough of an indicator, since beers such as double (or imperial) IPAs are meant to be drunk young, even though their ABV is in the 8%+ range. Here are a few words to look for on the label that will help you pick the right beers to begin your collection:
Barleywine and Wheatwine: With few exceptions, these ales will hold up for between 5-10+ years when stored properly.
Barrel Aged: This ancient method of storing beer has seen a huge resurgence in recent years, and a wide variety of styles now see the inside of the barrel at some point. These beers are typically high in alcohol and have usually been aged in oak for six months to a year prior to bottling, preparing them to develop in the cellar for several years.
Imperial Stout: Created in England for the enjoyment of the Russian aristocracy in the mid-1800s, these strong, rich, malty beers can easily take 5-10 years in the cellar.
Sours, Geuze, Brett (or Brettanomyces) and Spontaneously Fermented Ales: The combination of wild yeasts and bacteria work together to create beers with exceptional longevity. It is not uncommon for these beers to be cellared for 15-20 years.
2. Buy a few beers at a time.
It’s best to keep it simple when you begin your collection, so don’t give in to the urge to buy everything at once. Choose two different brands or styles at first, and buy multiple bottles of each. Determine what your budget is for monthly or quarterly additions and stick to it, no matter how tempting it may be to spend a
week’s pay on desirable bottles.
3. Choose the right storage for the best results.
Light and heat are the enemies of all beer, and are particularly important to control for long-term storage. This is perhaps the most daunting aspect of cellaring for the beginning collector, but acceptable storage conditions are easier to create than most people realize. If you live in a house find a corner of your basement away from the boiler and hot water heater. If you live in an apartment or don’t have a basement, an interior closet works just as well. Get empty cardboard case boxes from your beer store. Keep small bottles in six-pack carriers within a master carton or filing cabinet and 750 ml bottles in partitioned boxes, and most importantly, always store bottles upright, even if they have a cork. An added layer of insulation can be achieved by covering your stash with a thick furniture blanket.
4. Catalog your cellar.
Your collection will be useless if you don’t know what you have. Create a simple Excel or similar spreadsheet to catalog your purchases. Ours includes columns for ABV, Quantity, Name, Style, Brewery, Format Size, and Year. Putting the ABV in the first column allows you to use Excel’s “sort” function to arrange the beers by either ascending or descending strength and gives a rough idea at a glance of which beers to cellar longest.
5. Keep tasting notes.
Within a month after each purchase taste a bottle with a friend or two. Everybody’s palate is different, so it’s good to have another perspective. Regardless of the style, we love a tulip glass or snifter for this. Note the color, clarity, and carbonation first. Next, gently swirl the beer with your other hand covering the glass then place the glass close to your nose and inhale. Record what you smell in the order that you experience each aroma. Do you get a blast of hops, or does the beer’s yeast character hit you first? With maltier beers look for hints of caramel, dark chocolate, and fruit, along with any dark roast aromas. Now taste the beer and make similar observations. This part is actually a lot more fun than it sounds and is crucial to understanding how each beer has changed once you make future tastings of the same beer. Keep all the tasting notes together in a safe place for future reference. We store a tasting notebook along side our beers so that there’s never a question where it is.
6. Be patient.
This might seem obvious, but it’s really the hardest part for some people. Trust us- your friends and family will be impressed with your collection, but don’t give in to the temptation to open anything before its time. How many bottles you have of each beer and their potential years of aging should determine your tasting schedule. If you only have two or three bottles of something that has a ten-year potential, we recommend waiting 3-5 years before the second sampling.
Do you have a beer cellar? What beers are you collecting?