A few words on … aging beer

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain

As of late, I’ve found myself giving consideration to aging. Not in the sort of approaching death, morbid way, but (naturally) thinking about what it does to my beer.

Aging beers?

I know I’m not the only one who’s been in this mindset, given recent posts over at Queen City Drinks, DivineBrew and Drink. Blog. Repeat. However, it was this piece by The Street that caught my eye when they suggested something rather blasphemous to the beer community: age a Pliny the Younger. Say whaaaaa?

I have a confession to make. I’m a blasphemer too. Since January, I’ve been letting a couple bottles of Hopslam sit in a dark cabinet. Please Beer Gods (and bloggers), forgive me. Allow me to confess my sins after the jump.

Now, I realize my decision may be taboo, but I say … why not?
Aging beer isn’t an exact science, although we do have a pretty good idea of how we should go about it. For example, here’s what Joshosbo at Queen City Drinks points out:

I’m not going to get into the science of this, but beers I’ve had the best luck with have had one of more of these characteristics:

  • Dark
  • Sour (as in lambic/wild sour, not “bitter beer face” sour)
  • High ABV
  • Bottle conditioned (most of the time it will say on the bottle)

… and I absolutely agree with these notes. They’re all important to the aging process, along with a most ideal temperature of about 50(ish) degrees. But dare I follow the lead of Dogfish Head and suggest that “a little experimentation goes a long way?” This is why I’ve chosen to see where aging my two remaining bottles of Hopslam takes me. Perhaps fittingly enough, I started with a quick search to see if any other beer fans were as foolish as me. Turns out I’m not alone, although perhaps still crazy. What I’m hoping for is that as the hops mellow and things settle, I’ll find it to become a rather sweet barleywine-like beer. Fingers crossed for something unique…

Technically, this could be playing with your beer.

Sure, our parents said we should never play with our food, but I don’t have mother dearest hovering over my beer glass. Why not play with our beer?

There is most certainly a financial risk involved – it’s something Brett at DivineBrew knows well when he lost almost a couple dozen of beers. But if it’s for experimentation’s sake, we don’t have to necessarily have to waste that nice $10 (or more) bottle to feed our aging fancy. (Nor should we see just how well that Miller Light from 2005 has held up) I suppose what I’m getting at is that while there are certainly established, well-grounded rules to the aging process, isn’t there some fun in playing resident anarchist with them? How else can we learn and just maybe … have some good beer?

These Belgians are really old. Look in their eyes and you may lose your soul.

I’ll admit it’s easy for me to play with this theory with my homebrews. For example, I brewed a Belgian saison when the weather really first started to get warm here in North Carolina around March. I’ve got four bottles left of the batch I’ve let sit around and while I use “aging” lightly in this case, it’s been fun to see just how the flavor has dramatically changed since then. At first, the beer was rather bitter and earthy in its flavor, but now as things have mellowed it has a great hidden spiciness and the bitterness has dissipated greatly. I plan on holding on to at least one bottle to see what it will taste like in March 2013 or maybe even beyond.

So yes, I’m sure we’re all aware of the general science of beer and I’m sure we’re all aware of how we should play nice with aging, but the rules were meant to be broken, right?

What do you think? Do you age beer? What are your rules? Question mark?

*Final note: Nick over at Drink. Blog. Repeat. has an impressive collection of beers in his cellar you should drool over. If you’re nice to him, he might even trade – really, it’s right on his page.*


3 thoughts on “A few words on … aging beer

  1. If you’re a blasphemer, so am I. I’ve got two bottles of this year’s Hopslam in my cellar as well. Like you, I want to see what time did to it. And it wasn’t like I didn’t get my fill of Hopslam when it came out: I bought about a case worth of it earlier this year.

    Cellaring is by no means a perfect science for me. My “cellar” is an interior closet that’s free of light and usually stays a bit cooler than the rest of my house. I know it’s not ideal, but I’m not going to be hanging on to bottles for decades, so I’m not afraid about a beer being in peak shape. Most of my cellar is made up of stouts/imperial stouts, barleywines and bottle-conditioned beers, so they’ll age well even outside of ideal conditions. And nothing is outrageously expensive, so if it doesn’t turn out to be the best bottle of that beer I’ve ever had, it’s not a big loss.

    Regardless, thanks for finding my cellar drool-worthy 🙂

    1. My “cellar” is the bottom of a pantry in our kitchen. It’s not 50-55, but it probably stays in the 60s. I go nuts for Hopslam when it comes out, but I found that after going through seven or eight of them, I wanted to see how time would really impact the flavor I’m so nutty about.


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