We’ve all experienced it—that feeling when you’re cleaning out the fridge and find a few stray bottles of beer stuffed in the back, leftover from last month's party or perhaps even last Christmas. Upon the discover, you ponder: Is it still drinkable? Should I pop one open?
Well, that all depends on the beer’s style, but know that yes, some beers do indeed age quite well, resulting in transformed, multilayered, and complex brews. In fact, collecting and aging beer like wine is increasingly popular, and tasting beer aged for many years can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor. The best way to do it—purposefully, not by accident—is to build a home cellar. You’ll want a dark, cool (but not cold) environment that fosters flavor development and evolution. This can be anything from a box in the back of a closet (rustic!) to a temperature and humidity-controlled wine fridge or cellar (hi-tech).
Don't rush into doing this for everything though—something to consider is that not all beer is meant for aging. In general, the majority of beer should be consumed fresh. But the best ones to age are high-gravity beers and those with funky yeast and souring bacteria like Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. Alcohol acts as a preservative while certain bacteria and yeast do the same—preserving and evolving the beer right in the bottle (science!). Think barley wines, Russian imperial stouts, Trappist quads, and Belgian lambics and other sours. Some saisons age well, too. Hops also act as a preservative, but most IPAs are best consumed fresh—their heady, ephemeral aromas dissipate relatively quickly, within a few months. High-alcohol IPAs can take on intriguing chocolaty and sherry-like flavors when aged for several years, but it's best to ask your local beer store for advice on which ones would make sense for this route. So, don’t be afraid to give aging beer a shot. The hardest part by far is the waiting.
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