Very often, we are asked the question, “Can you Age Beer like Wine?”
Short answer – Yes!
The rest of this guide is all about the long answer.
We’ve all experienced it – that moment when you’re cleaning out your fridge, and you come across a few stray bottles leftover from the last house party. And, you ponder – is it still drinkable? Can I try one? Or should I throw them away?
The answers to these questions depend on the style of your beer. And some styles, age well just like wine. This results in multi-layered, complex and transformed brews that taste totally different. In fact, today aging beer is catching up as a trend.
Beer – The Liquid Bread
We think referring to beer as the liquid bread is a very apt description. Craft beer has similar aromas, ingredients, and flavours to bread, and just like bread, it tastes best when enjoyed fresh. Yet, there are several beers that give off nuanced and complex flavours with age. Just like cellaring produces different flavours in wine, it helps beers acquire new complex aromas and flavours.
What does Ageing do to your Beer?
Ageing your brew doesn’t necessarily make it better. Instead, it changes the flavour profile of the drink. Whether it’s better or not, is up to you. Generally, hoppy beers on ageing lose their flavours and produce other compounds that are distracting.
On the other hand, ageing works better with different styles of beer, like barleywines and old ales. Here, the flavours don’t clash with age but harmonize to create a better result.
The rule of thumb to remember when the ageing beer is never to age something that you haven’t tasted fresh. Without being aware of the base flavour when the drink is fresh, you cannot judge whether it’ll get better a few months or even years down the line.
With that said, let’s focus on the other aspects of Beer Ageing.
Which is the best beer to Age?
The general rule of thumb is to pick beers with an ABV of 8% or more with malt-based flavours. Other options that work well with ageing include bottle conditioned beers like Belgian Ales and sour ales. The active yeast in these drinks helps in enhancing the flavours present in the brew while preventing excessive oxidation.
Styles like funky lambics, strong dark ales, Belgian quadruple, barleywines, imperial stouts and other wide ales taste better after storing them in a dark cupboard for some time.
Where to Age Beer?
Any place that is dark and cool works well. The ideal storage temperature is around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, though a few temperatures above or below this point work well.
And, what makes ageing beer a breeze is that it’s remarkably resilient. All you need is a cabinet or closet, and your beer is ready to take a long nap. You don’t need a wine fridge or a large cellar to age beer.
If you’re just trying out experiments with ageing beer, then you could just pop a couple of bottles in the back of your fridge. Though the cool temperature of the fridge slows down ageing, the flavours undergo a change slowly but steadily.
How long to Age Beer?
Six months is considered as the ideal amount of time to impact the overall flavour of the beer. During this time, the aroma and flavours of the hops begin to fade, bitterness mellows down, and the alcoholic sting fades into the background. Additionally, the flavour notes of other ingredients like floral, spices, chocolate and coffee also get toned down.
Flavours like vanilla, tobacco, and dried fruit develop over time, while the brew builds sherry-like aromas. The rough and sharp notes of the brew’s flavour get rounded out.
A well-aged beer is one that has less intense flavour, but more complex notes. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean “an aged beer is a better beer.” It all depends on individual preferences. While some like the intense and edgy flavours of a fresh stout, others may prefer the complex notes of a year-old beer.
Highlights of the Effects of Ageing on the Flavours and Tastes
Ageing produces several changes in the beer. Here are is a list of all that occurs:
- Harshness increases
- Bitterness decreases
- Ribes (blackcurrant /catty character) increase
- Fruity and other floral esters decrease
- Bready character increases
- Metallic character increases
- Sweetness increases
- Earthy, woody and straw character increase
- Cardboard character / wet paper character increases
- Vinuous characters (stale fruit/sherry/wine) increases
- Meat like flavours can develop
To Age or Not to Age?
That’s the million dollar question, right? Just like several other aspects of craft beer, it all comes down to personal preferences. Before you age beer, you have to consider all the possible outcomes. No one can give a definite answer to the question, will the brew get better with age?
You may end up with a complex flavour that is refreshing. On the other hand, you may end up with unfavourable results.
This is why we suggest that you give ageing a try. After all, no one can know what will happen, unless you give it a shot right?
For any further assistance on setting a beer pub in India and brewing your very own craft beer, get in touch with our panel of expert beer connoisseurs and savvy businessmen.