If you’ve ever tried a beer that got pushed to the back of the fridge or forgotten about, you’ve likely tasted something different than expected. That’s because, like wine, the structure and character of beer will change as it ages.
Also like wine, some beers are meant to be consumed young, while others benefit from time in proper storage. Technically, most will be OK to drink for an indefinite period, thanks to pasteurization. Just don’t expect everything to taste great.
What To Cellar
You have two basic options: Stock up on something you like and find out how it ages, or choose beers that can stand up to maturation. A higher alcohol content will help with preservation, so look for beers with at least 8% alcohol by volume (abv). Stronger, maltier flavors may also maintain or develop better.
Imperial stouts, barleywines, old ales and Belgian styles are all smart choices. Rauchbiers, lambics and gueuze are lower-alcohol choices that will age nicely due to their phenols and lactic acids. Beers brewed with Brettanomyces, which will ferment certain sugars slower, also evolve well.
What Not To Cellar
Bright, crisp styles like lagers, pilsners and India pale ales (IPAs) should be enjoyed fresh. Over time, their flavors may fade and give way to oxidation, especially if bottled and exposed to light. Other styles like New England IPAs might experience a drop in protein, thin out and become clear.
How To Cellar
Store your beer in a cool, dark place. Ideally, aim for around 50 ̊F for lagers and 65 ̊F for ales and no access to sunlight. This helps prevent undesired flavors from taking root. Use plastic or metal crates, or actual shelving, if available. It’s fine to store most bottles upright, but beers with yeast sediment like lambics should be stored on their sides.
When To Open
One year is a good jumping-off point. From there, check in every six months, year, two years or five—it really is up to you. If hops turn fruitier, malts take on a Sherry note or adjuncts concentrate further, it’s fine to keep going. If you notice flavors are creeping off, it’s best to drink whatever’s left.