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Our rants about beer and beer culture.

Fine Old Beers For Sipping

02.07.2013 12:18 PM

For a spell, sour ales were all craft beer lovers could geek about. Now there is a new love spreading like wildfire:

AGED BEER!

As you may recall, we talked to Park Slope bar owner Bobby Gagnon who told us about his secret vintage beer cellar. “I have, at odd times, played fast and loose with some of the brews normally not intended for cellaring just to see what happens,” he admitted. “As an example, I had Adam Avery here and for him I rolled out an aged keg of his'Karma' Ale, one of my favorites. We drank it, but later, over dinner, he told me I was nuts! But honestly, it was excellent.”

Types Of Beer That Age Well

There are certain beers you don’t want to age. Hoppy IPAs, for instance, will not hold up well over time. Pale lagers also represent a style of beer that is best served fresh. Fruit beers are best served young as well.

Yet, stouts and porters, in particular, develop a unique quality as they get older. Malt-heavy beers in general are your best bet. Beers with 8-10% ABV (or even higher) tend to age the best. Lambics, sour ales, barley wines, and strong winter ales age great too. You can expect really interesting flavors to emerge with a yeast-conditioned bottle of something like Sierra Nevada / Russian River Breweries’ Brux, too. Feel free to experiment with anything that is barrel-aged, “Special Reserve,” bottle-conditioned, or brewed with brettanomyces.

Matthew VandenBerghe, owner of Bottleworks Beer Store and Brouwers Café in Seattle, says some of the most memorable beers he’s aged include: Batch 1 Adam Hair of the Dog and Trappistes Rochefort 10.

Bill Sysak, who has a collection of more than 1,000 bottles – some dating back 20 years, recommends: De Dolle Stille Nacht Reserva; Rodenbach Alexander; Hürlimann Samichlaus Bier; Cantillon Kriek Lambic; and the elusive Thomas Hardy barleywine.

You could also begin your experiment with beers from Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, based out of Portland, Oregon. Owner Alan Sprints told The New York Times that he began his company with the solitary goal of creating beers that improve with age.

What Does Aged Beer Taste Like?

Mike Romans of Romans’ Pub told his local paper, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, that he ages a dozen kegs a year and has a collection of bottles dating back to the nineties. “Some flavors drop, and some flavors emerge,” he explained. “It morphs.”

Generally speaking, hops and aroma are most likely to fade away during the aging process. However, there are exceptions to every rule. Dogfish Head says their 120 Minute IPAdevelops sweet sherry and marmalade notes with age. “If you're a really good brewer and you've worked hard to get the oxygen out, then your beer will age very gracefully and slowly,” Quality Control Manager Rebecca Newman explains. “If you haven't spent the time and the effort to get the oxygen out at the time of packaging, then you lose those beautiful flavors very rapidly."

Beers that have dark malt and a sharp edge will develop a smooth, velvety finish as they age, Newman adds.

Additional Tips For Aging Beer:

  • Keep your beer at 50-55 degrees.
  • Store your bottles upright.
  • Age several beers and sample them at different time intervals, starting at 6 months, to taste the progression.
  • Try a bourbon-barrel-aged beer. They’re very intriguing!

As aged beer aficionado Dave Sanborn explains, “It’s similar to that fine bottle of wine: ‘Oh, I’m going to save this for that special occasion…’ and eventually the special occasion is just opening that bottle.”

Yet, there will be a bittersweet feeling when you find that one perfect flavor. “I had 15 cases of a beer I bought 15 years ago, and now I’m down to the last few amazing bottles,” said collector Bill Sysak. “It’s like seeing your child go off to college for the first time. You’re never going to get that moment again.”

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