Starting A Beer Cellar 101
We get a lot of questions about collecting and storing, or cellaring, beer. Wine isn’t the only beverage that can mature and develop in the bottle over time.
- What kind of beer to cellar
- How long to cellar a beer
- Optimal environmental conditions
- Upright? On it’s side?
1. We’re definitely not talking about hop-forward beers like American Pale Ales or IPAs in this article. While there are always exceptions to every rule, those styles are generally best enjoyed as fresh as possible.
We’re talking about higher ABV beers like old ales, barelywines, or imperial stouts, and beers that develop over time like sours and lambics. We also recommend buying 2 of a beer your plan to cellar. One to drink right away and one to drink a year later to compare the differences.
Unlike most bottled beer, bottle conditioned and on lees beers are packaged with a small amount of yeast that provides additional fermentation and maturation, developing deeper and richer flavors over time. Beers like Cantillon Classic Gueuze and Chimay Premier (red label) and great examples of bottle conditioned beers that are perfect for cellaring.
2. One year is a really good starting point for aging beer. The hardest part about this guideline is finding the willpower to NOT open that bottle for a full year. The best part about this guideline is that many of exactly the kind of beers you want to cellar are annual releases so you have a good reason to wait.
There are some beers that are brewed expressly to be cellared, and say so right on the bottle. Deschutes Reserve Series beers have “best after” dates on their labels and De Molen’s Hel & Verdoemenis (Hell & Damnation in Dutch) label suggests enjoying within 25 years.
Some people won’t even think about aging a 12% imperial stout with coffee because they argue that particular flavor fades quickly, changing the beer for the worse. Others intend to age these kinds of beer because it will change over time in a way they enjoy. There is no hardline rule here and the only way to know your preference is to try it for yourself. Next time you buy a 4 pack of a beer like Founders Breakfast Stout, drink one fresh, one a month or 2 later, one a year after release and, if you can make it this long, drink the last one 2 years after release. That beer will have changed. Will you like it??
3. The conditions in which you store your beer will make or break your cellar. Two environmental conditions to control: light and temperature.
UV light will ruin beer. Brown bottles block most of it, but green bottles block very little. Keep those bottles as far from sunlight as possible. Keeping bottles inside boxes is a must if your storage area is sunlit.
It is not necessary to keep beer at refrigerator temps for storage. A good guideline is to keep the beer somewhere between cellar (50-55 degrees) to room temp (55-65 degrees). Pick a corner of the basement that’s furthest away from windows and mechanical equipment to prevent major temperature changes, too. If you don’t have a basement, pick a central closet that’s not too close to windows or doors.
4. The upright or on it’s side debate will forever rage on. Especially for corked bottles. Some people swear by the wine method and keep their collection on it’s side to keep the cork wet and prevent oxygen from getting past a dried-out cork. Others will only store upright because cork contains chemicals that can alter the taste of the beer over time. And others still are right in the middle. Sours and wild ales on their sides and other beers upright. We believe there is no right answer here, and it’s all based on preference. Experiment with both and draw your own conclusion. And let us know your thoughts!