By Paul Barry | Assistant Buyer: Beer & Spirits
You may have heard mention of a ‘beer stash’, where incredible rare beers have been left to age and developed exceptional new flavours but it is not too hard or expensive to start your own stash. So, when it comes to beers that have potential to age what are you looking for?
The majority of beers do not age well. The bitterness and fruity or floral flavours and aromas of hoppier beers will decrease overtime so are best drunk fresh. The same goes for lighter styles like Pilsner. There are, however, some fantastic styles of beer that will develop and improve given time.
In general, you are looking for beers with stronger flavours. More malt driven styles work well where the sweet, roasty and malty flavours soften. The wood character of barrel-aged beers will similarly soften. Also, look for beers with a higher alcohol content, above 8%, where those boozy flavours will mellow and integrate over time. Try some Barley wine or imperial stout. The notable exception here is with lower alcohol sours that have great potential to evolve.
Bottle conditioned beers, such as many Belgians, will naturally develop as the yeast slowly consumes the sugar and creates new flavours and aromas. St Stefanus Blonde ale will show great character change over a couple of years. Wild fermented or ‘Brett’ beers, those intentionally inoculated with Brettanomyces, can also develop superbly as these microbes has a veracious appetite for sugar and will consume even those more complex sugars, thereby throwing out more flavours. Timmermans Oude Gueuze has the potential to improve for 20 years where it can develop funkier and more complex flavours.
Once you have picked yourself some great beers you will need to store them in the right conditions. There is a discussion on whether to store beers standing upright or on their side that could take up this entire blog post but the safer approach is probably standing upright. Keep then in the dark to avoid any ‘skunked’ flavour from ultraviolet light exposure. You will also want to keep them in a cool environment, around 10 to 15, but not where they could freeze. The colder it is the longer the aging process will take.
How long a beer will benefit from aging depends on the factors mentioned above, malt body, alcohol content and yeast but 3 to 5 years is a good rule of thumb to see how they develop. If you want to try something a bit earlier, seasonals can be a great option by buying one year and aging to compare with the fresh release the following year.
A note of caution, not all beers from the styles I suggested will develop well over time. Most will age gracefully but there is no guarantee. It’s a bit of an adventure really. Enjoy.