Many people recognize the merits of aging a fine wine, but few realize that certain beers also taste better with age. Many of the standard beers found in supermarkets and liquor stores are meant to be consumed as soon as they are bought. But, for a few special brews, flavor is greatly enhanced when they are stored away and left to age to perfection.
Best Beers for Storing
A common Budweiser will be past its prime only four to six months after it leaves the brewery. Some beers, however, can endure extended shelf-life, and may even improve with age. Beers that age well include:
- barley wines
- strong ales
- vintage beers.
Beer Expiration Dates
A common rule of thumb among beer experts is that American beers are fresh for four to six months. Experts also say imported beers last longer – nine to 12 months. Some beers, like those with high alcohol content, can last years, if you know how to store them properly.
Most beers have some kind of code or date on the package. Bud and Coors beers have “born on” dates, which make it easy to add four to six months in order to determine the date of expiry. Sam Adams beer has an expiration date, which will tell you when your beer will be the freshest.
Beer Gone Bad: A Skunky Situation
If you don”t pay attention to expiration dates, your beer gets skunked. A skunked beer is a beer that has gone bad or rotten, like other common groceries. Beer gets skunked more often when it is exposed to light or oxygen. Beer also deteriorates in high temperatures. A skunked beer has a bad taste and smell and should be dumped out.
Rules of Thumb for Storing Beers
Most beers that improve with age need to be stored at least one year, but some can be aged for up to 25 years. Most experts agree that beer should be stored upright, not on its side like wine. One argument for why beer should be stored upright is that the yeast needs to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Storing beer on its side may create a yeast ring. This ruins the beer since the yeast will not settle after this happens.
Since it is hard to tell when your beer has reached its peak, experts recommend buying multiple bottles so you can test the flavor, aroma, and colors periodically. Taking notes will help you to remember when a beer was at its best. Ales are typically known to age well. Lagers are aged automatically in the brewing process, and most often are best fresh from the brewery.
Knowing the best temperature for storing beer can be a challenge. Many cellars get warmer and colder with the changing seasons, so regulating temperature might be beyond your control. There are three main temperature guidelines for storing beer:
- 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit: Best for strong beers like barley wines, triples and dark ales
- 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit: Best for standard ales, such as IPAs, stouts, Lambics and bitters
- 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit: Best for light beers including lagers, wheat beers and pilsners.
These temperatures are averages, and a good rule to follow is that the higher the alcohol content, the higher the maturation temperature. Likewise, the lower the alcohol content, the lower the temperature.
Bad News for Beer: Conditions that Will Deteriorate Your Brew
Light and heat are beer”s worst enemies. Direct sunlight, as well as artificial, fluorescent lights can lead to “light-struck” beer in under a minute. Light-struck beer is skunked beer. While brown bottles are the most protective of beer, clear and green bottles are very susceptible to light. Storing beer in dark or shaded areas or even wrapped in brown bags will protect its quality.
Heat will also deteriorate beer. Warm temperatures make the yeast in the beer more active, which is why storing beer cold is the best way to keep it fresher longer. This rule applies to all beer, whether storing it for a week or for a year.
Beer Advocate Staff. (n.d.) How to store beer. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the BeerAdvocate.com Web site: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/store.
Brew Your Own Staff. (2001). Storing beer: Mr. wizard. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the Brew Your Own Web site: http://www.byo.com/stories/wizard/article/section/121-mr-wizard/1457-storing-grain-a-rising-kraesen-mr-wizard.
Brewing Information Staff. (n.d.) Storing beer. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the Brewing Information Web site: http://www.brewinginformation.com/storing-beer.html.
Wahle, S. (2006) Cracking beer expiration dates. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the WBZTV.com Web site: http://wbztv.com/food/Beer.Expiration.Dates.2.576733.html.