Beer Syndicate Blog

Sexy Older Beers: How and Why to Age Your Brew

Hello beer brewers and beer drinkers and beer lovers everywhere. Today I am here to talk to you about BILFs. You know, BILFS! Beers I’d Like to Slurp. And if you thought I meant MILFS, you’re really not all that far off. Because some things, including beers, really do get sexier with age.

Now that may be a bit of a vulgar introduction to a subject that is in point of fact a bit subtle. But it’s not something that beer brewers or beer drinkers talk about that often, and it deserves the talking. Can beers be aged? Should they? If so, what beers, and for how long and how?

Well let me start by saying that as a brewer, I am an impatient little bitch. I mean seriously, it bugs me that I have to wait two weeks sometimes to taste my delicious malted nectar. I want it NOW. And that may be more a component of the culture I am a product of. Because let’s be honest – we are a fast-food culture that mass produces nearly everything, INCLUDING beer. And we all know that mass-produced beer comes with a BORN ON DATE.

But should it? Can beer… expire?

Oh, most definitely. And you’ll know if you’ve got an old bottle you’re sipping from. Beer is made from grain, and grain can get stale and stale beer tastes like a mix of dirty apple cider and cardboard box and water soy sauce. No joke. Over-aged beers essentially suffer from oxidization. And that’s essentially the same chemical process that causes paint to fade and iron to rust. Yes indeed, metaphorically speaking (since we’re talking about a slightly different chemical process) beer can get RUSTY.

Now, Beer Fans, a certain beer friend of mine who is always inviting me to beer tastings, is also a bit of a beer hoarder (you should see his house – he has, no exaggeration, something like 4000 bottles in the queue, just waiting for a beer tasting. This dude needs to star in his own episode of Hoarders!) This certain friend, as a result of his Level 3 Beer Hording Mental Illness, sometimes serves us an old beer. It doesn’t happen very often. But it has happened with enough frequency that we can all now tell, nearly immediately, whether a beer has gone stale and become oxidized. Because in that moment whatever unique and joyous and original taste characteristics the beer once had, disappear and what you are left with, no matter the style of beer, almost universally tastes of cardboard, dirty apple juice, and soy sauce, and the dirt of dead yeast. So whatever else you take from this article, it’s worth noting that you can store and keep beer, if you treat it right, but it’s a tragedy to ruin a good bottle because you can’t bear to leave it on the liquor store shelf. Treat your beers (the ones you brew and the ones you buy) with respect, and you’ll be rewarded with deliciousness every time.

So if it’s so possible to get a stale bottle, how could I, in good conscience, ever recommend that any beer drinker or beer brewer to EVER age a bottle of beer? And the answer is because some beers REALLY DO get better with age, you just gotta know which ones and why you would want to age them and then you have to not be an impatient little bitch like me most of the time.

Exhibit 1: That same aforementioned Beer Hoarder, is also an avid master homebrewer and has successfully brewed one of the single best home brews I have ever sampled. This homebrew was an Imperial Saison, and I was EXPLICITLY FORBIDDEN under the threat of dishonor and humiliation in my role as NUMBER ONE SUPER BEER TASTER IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE, if I dared to open it before it was a year old.




And finally one year from the day I received the bottle (probably, to be honest, slightly more than one year from the day it was actually bottled) I pried off the cork (cause it was a classy SAISON, bitches, and that’s how you bottle them if you have CLASS and STYLE like my friend the beer hoarder).

And it was like drinking sunlight, shining into the fields of a French Farmhouse, as I sat and sipped amongst the chickens and French farmers. It was one of those transcendent beer-tasting moments, where the sun goes into total eclipse and the flavors coursing across your tongue and down into your throat sing in a glorious angelic roar about all that is and was and will be excellent in your life. It was one of those beers. So tasty and memorable that it makes me shiver a little to recall it for you now. And it was over a year old when I finally got around to tasting it.

So what made that Imperial Saison so delicious over a year after the date on which it was brewed and bottled?

Read more…

First, it was the alcohol content.

Note the adjective in front of SAISON earlier? IMPERIAL. As in GLORIOUS CONQUERING OVERLORD OF Saisons.

No but seriously, these days brewers slap that appellate in front of their beer names for two reasons.

The first, and probably best and most honest reason is to indicate a stronger alcohol version of a traditionally lower alcohol style, or to translate it: Imperial equals “this is a really strong beer that will probably get you drunk quickly and if you get served it in a restaurant or bar they are going to bring it out in a tiny little tulip glass reserved for elves and fairies because of stupid laws that prevent bars from serving you certain quantities of alcohol all at once and so you are going to sit there with your little elf fairy tulip cup like a pretentious beer douche hipster while everyone else sips their big manly pints like real men.”

The other reason to slap the adjective IMPERIAL in front of SAISON means you are about to ruin your beer and do something stupid like add excessive quantities of cat-pissy hops to make some sort of California moron brewer’s wet dream hybrid of stupidly-hoppy-ruin-your-palette Saison.

If you’re a brewer, you should totally do the first thing and make stronger versions of classic styles, because strong beers are delightful (so long as, if you can predict the message of this little article, you are PATIENT.) Often times these stronger beers can be a complex, innovative, aesthetically unique take on a beer you have tasted so often that you almost take it for granted. So do that, please. And send me a bottle when you’re done.

If you’re a brewer, you should totally NOT do the second thing, because you are a moron and despite what trendy west-coast idiocy you may have subscribed too, not every beer you drink has to be wrecked by stupid Cascade hops.

My crusade against the IPA (world’s dumbest beer style) aside, in this case, it just meant that his beer, this Sacred and Most Glorious Imperial Saison had 11% ABV and so if I didn’t age it, I would probably end up sipping a harsh and chemically astringent brew, that probably would have had more in common with floor cleaner than tasty malt bev.

THUS, take note: One of the categories of ageable beers are strong beers – beers with high alcohol or strong malt complexities. While these most often mean barleywines, imperial stouts, and robust porters, it can extend to any beer that has an ABV over 8%.

By aging these strong beers, the warm booze-like esters of high-alcohol beers will mellow, any excessive bitterness will smooth out, and in general the beer will not only be more drinkable, but it will allow you to taste subtle complexities that might otherwise be hidden in the first months after brewing by those strong alcohol notes.

The OTHER reason to age that Imperial Saison was because it was a Saison – a funky, Belgian style with elements other than simply yeast, malt, and hops that added to the flavor.

Belgian exotics, including saisons, sour beers, lambics and gueuzes all use MAGICAL SUPER-ORGANISMS that add flavor and complexity, but more importantly, consume oxygen that might otherwise ruin a normal beer. These specialty styles can go from sharp and bitter after brewing, to spicy, yeasty, and with earthy complexities that you simply won’t taste unless you’re aging.

But now here’s the thing. It’s not enough just to stuff that beer in a cabinet and let it go. If you’re going to age, you may as well do it right. There is a lot of stuffy beer snobery that can come into play here in debates about what is the exact right temperature to cellar your beer without imparting other off-style flavors such as might occur during lagering. My advice is that the best results are likely to occur between 50 – 60 degrees F. That means stuffing it into the bottom of the pantry is a NON-OPTION. At room temperature, oxidization can occur more rapidly and so the less strong or complex beers are at risk for still becoming stale.

On the other side of this, with temperatures below 50 degrees, you risk strange off-style fruit esters. This may be an interesting way to add a unique note to your homebrew, but it probably won’t win you any beer competitions.

So, you either have un-heated basement or cellar in your house where the temperature remains relatively consistent, or you are running a temperature controller on your cellaring fridge you keep it in your garage (because most household refrigerators run much colder than 50F!)

The next thing you must make sure of, and maybe this goes without saying, but some of you out there need a little hand holding still, is DARKNESS. You gots to have the darkness, child.

Ultraviolet light DECAYS YOUR BEER. This is why you bottle your beer in dark brown bottles, child, and this is why beer that comes in clear or green bottles is skunky and SHOULD NOT BE CONSUMED BY MORTAL MAN UNLESS HE IS ON SPRING BREAK IN MEXICO WITH HAWT GIRLZ IN BIKINIS BECAUSE THEN IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BEER.

So, ideally, you have a cool cellar underneath your house where no sunlight gets in, or a fridge in your MAN CAVE that will keep the light out, or maybe you live in a place where room temperature is 50 to 60 F all year round, in which case, on top of the TV is not the right spot for cellaring your beer. Put it in the dark!

So is that it? Is that the MAGICAL SECRET TO WHAT BEERS TO STORE AND HOW? Well, I’ll leave you with some final notes.

First, be wary of aging beers with adjuncts. Fruit additives, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, herb-, flower-, or tea-infused beers probably won’t age well since those ingredients can break down more quickly than the standard beer ingredients.

Second, hops. There seems to be a bunch of hipster hop heads around there these days who for all their bluster about bitter beers being better, can’t tell you the difference between a noble hop and a cascade. But if there’s one thing you can skip if cellaring your beer, it’s the hoppy ones. Hops are also a likely candidate for quick decay, and so the hoppier the beer, the more quickly you should drink it (and you should be drinking it quickly anyhow so you can move on to something that actually tastes good.)

Finally, don’t be afraid to test. Store away a 12 pack and pull out a single bottle to start tasting it at six months. Try it again at nine months, and then again at a year. The stronger the beer, the longer it will safely last, and so barley wines are ideal candidates for this type of aging. But if at any point you simply like what you are sipping, bring it in the house put it in your regular fridge, and start sharing it with your friends–it’s ready to drink!

Which brings us to the last, biggest and most important element of this challenge. THE WAITING. Man it stinks to wait. If only there was some sort of magical beer time machine we could take to that point in the future where our beer is perfect and ready to drink. I will be the first to admit that I have consumed in less than three months, batches of strong beers that I really should have aged for at least a year.

So if you find yourself in that sort of position, don’t fret. It just means it’s time to brew some more. And this time, this time you may just find the patience to let the beer age. Trust me, it can be way sexier that way.

Like this blog? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, or subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter at; it’s free and as far as I know, I’m not getting paid, so your readership is the only thanks I’m getting. 

Exit mobile version