Portland is a beer town surrounded by wine country. That, as much as anything, gives us reason to take suds seriously. And nothing says “sophisticated” like a cellar stocked with rare vintages. Yes, you can and should age beer. No, we don’t mean that 30-pack of Natural Ice that’s been in your garage for eight months. Give that to your 19-year-old brother and read on.
Why Age Beer? Just like wine, an aged beer will mellow, mature and gain complexity of flavor. The hot booziness of high-alcohol beers will decrease, and any harsh flavors will mellow, making them more drinkable. Sour beers will become increasingly sour, and bold flavors will meld for better balance.
“I’ve found that most beers tend to peak between one and three years,” says Brendan Ford-Sala, bottle-shop manager at Belmont Station. “After that, you’re going to start getting some oxidation, which can be nice or off-putting depending on your preference. But you’ll start to get those sherry-like notes that develop after year two. With a sour beer, they’ll typically get a little more sour in the first year, but then they’ll mellow out and some of the sharper edges on the sour flavors will drop out of it and you’ll get a more balanced beer.”
What to Age Most beers have
between 4 and 8 percent alcohol and a shelf life of three to six
months. The beers most people drink regularly, standard IPAs and lagers,
are best at their freshest. Anything especially hoppy or aromatic will
not benefit from aging because all of its desirable qualities will fade.
The higher the alcohol content, the longer the shelf life, which is why
barleywines (which range from 9 to 15 percent alcohol by volume) age so
well. Imperial stouts and porters can benefit from aging, along with
most sour beers like lambics.
“Style-wise I think the best things to age are sour beers,” says Jim Bonomo, manager and beer buyer for The Beer Mongers. “I just had one of Cascade’s Vlad the Imp Aler from 2008 that was tasting great. The sourness had taken over, the booziness was gone and it had this great funky character. But there is nothing wrong with aging other styles as long as the alcohol is high enough.”
How to Age Storage conditions are crucial. You don’t just want to toss a bottle in the back of the fridge for two years. Beers being aged should be kept away from light and heat but should also not be as cold or dry as it is in your fridge. The best spot would be a basement that maintains a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees. Then, all you need is patience.
“You should try to put it in someone else’s basement, so it’s not tempting you all the time,” Bonomo says.
BridgePort’s Old Knucklehead Barleywine
Alameda’s Black Bear XX Stout
Upright's Billy the Mountain Old Ale
Logsdon's Peche ’n Brett
Hair of the Dog’s Fred or Adam
Cascade’s Kriek, Apricot or Blueberry