Unlike wine, the “cellaring period” for most beer is how long it can survive your fridge or Igloo cooler before someone has the nerve to crack the final bottle.
Yet, many beers can actually improve with age. Much like wine, cellaring mellows otherwise intense notes, melds comingling flavors and often ratchets up complexity.
The rules for cellaring beer are simple.
First, pick the right bottle. In general, avoid hop-heavy brews. Over time, the beer’s bitterness tends to turn brusque, bullying to oblivion those beautiful hop-oil notes like citrus, pine sap and pressed flowers. Instead, malty, full-bodied or high-alcohol beers—barleywines, imperial stouts, lambics, certain ales—are better bets.
Next, cellar it correctly. Much like wine, light and heat are beer’s biggest enemies, so you want to store them in a cool dark place. And no, your kitchen fridge doesn’t count—it’s too cold and will quickly dry out your corks. Instead, place the bottles in your wine cellar or wine fridge, where the temperature is between 50 and 55˚F.
So, how long should you cellar? While a few breweries print cellaring times, it’s really up to you—but this is the fun part. Beer is relatively affordable, so buy three or more bottles, drink one immediately as a base reference, then set up your own tasting timetable.
Buying several sud soldiers also allows you to solve the one quandary still befuddling beer-cellaring fans: How to place these suckers. Some say laying them down like wine prevents the cork from drying out; some say there’s enough humidity in a beer bottle to sustain the cork, but constant contact ups the risk of skunking.
There may be no better-tasting science project on earth.
Six Beers to Cellar Now
Stone Enjoy After 10.31.15 Brett IPA (California)
Founders KBS (Michigan)
Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme (California)
Deschutes Black Butte XXVI 26th Birthday Reserve (Oregon)
Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine (Colorado)
Alaskan 2014 Smoked Porter (Alaska)