Adventures in Aging Beer

I admit it, I buy too much beer. As a result of this, I have a sorta defacto aging program. There have definitely been beers I specifically wanted to lay down for a while, but many beers get aged in my cellar simply because I have a long list of beers I want to try. When all this became clear, I did a little research and laid out my plans in a post about a year and a half ago. So how’s this aging program going? Some general observations:

  • Dark, strong beers seem to work best. Think World Wide Stout, which I loved at 2 years (I have since sampled a fresh pour, and yes, age does good things to this beer). Even just plain dark beers seem to do well with some time on it. I found a year old bottle of Lancaster Milk Stout in my fridge last fall and hot damn, that stuff was absolutely fantastic – smooth and creamy, just perfect (presumably similar results with the likes of other Milk Stouts like Left Hand’s or Coffeehouse Stout).
  • Barrel Aged beers seem to be a mixed bag. One thing that tends to kill me on this is a distinct lack of carbonation that I’m not always sure I can blame on the age. For example, Dock Street’s BA Prince Myshkin RIS and BA Barleywine both had utterly fantastic barrel aged qualities, but they were nearly flat, and that’s a problem for me (some folks seem to be fine with still beer, so good on them). Hoppin Frog’s Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. suffered a similar low-carbonation fate. Another thing to consider is hoppy beers, even hoppy stouts. In particular, Victory Dark Intrigue and North Coast Old Rasputin XIV take on a big faded hop character after about a year (still good, but very different from when they were fresh). Speaking of Victory, Oak Horizontal was great when I drank it on the day of release… but got super boozy and unbalanced after just a few months. Not sure if that one will come around… Not all Barrel Aged beers suffered from age. Witness The Bruery’s Coton (which, true, was only 25% bourbon barrel aged), one of the few beers to earn the coveted Kaedrin A+ rating (after a lenghty 2 year stay in my fridge). The difference, I suspect, is the 14.5% ABV.
  • Pumpkin beers don’t seem to work at all. To a lesser extent, spiced beers also seem to fade quickly after a certain point, though they have a good year in them (Anchor’s Christmas Beers are always worth trying after a year). Pumpkin beers, though, do not. Even something like Cape Ann Fisherman’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout, a 10% ABV stout, doesn’t do so well after just one year. The Bruery’s Autumn Maple, while superb when fresh, did not hold up so well to aging. To be fair, perhaps my aging conditions were not ideal for these brews, but I still say drink your Pumpkin beers fresh.
  • Barleywines are a bit of a mixed bag for me. They’re usually good, but extremely hoppy varieties tend to feature a strong faded hop component. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it works well enough most of the time. English style Barleywines (like this High Water Old And In The Way, which had a year or so on it when I tried it) tend to fare a little better than the American style barleywines, which can be good too, but again, they tend to have a big faded hop component. On the other hand, really high ABV could make up for that. I’d be curious about something like Bolt Cutter, for instance. But I’d drink something like Flying Mouflan (a relatively svelt 9% ABV, and very hoppy too) while fresh.
  • The jury is still out on funky beers and sours for me. I’ve heard that these keep for a really long time, but from what little experience I’ve had, I’m guessing their character changes significantly. Baudelaire iO was fantastic fresh, and still really good with a year on it, but I think I prefer the fresh stuff. I really wish I got to try Broederlijke Liefde when it was fresh, because it felt a bit unruly, but who really knows?

The short story here is that most beers are probably best drunk fresh. Aging is a bit of a crapshoot except when you hit reallly big beers like World Wide Stout or Samichlaus. It’s really cool when aging something does work out, so I feel like it’s worth playing in this realm, but if you just bought a beer that you’ve never had before and are wondering if you should lay it down for a while, I’d probably just crack it open right now. If you like it, pick up another bottle and age that to see what happens. I know, that requires foresight, which is lame. I’m bad at it too.

I’ll have to go through my cellar and catalog some of the stuff I’m intentionally aging (or, uh, unintentionally aging), but I’ll save that for another post.

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