Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How & Why To Start A Beer Cellar


Bitter Beer Face
   Yup you read that correctly.  A beer cellar.  No, not wine....Beer.  You may wonder; Didn't those old Budweiser commercials teach me that old beer is bad beer?

   Well for the american light lagers that Budweiser produces, that may be true. For some craft beer its just not the case.  You may also ask why would you age a beer? To be honest, not more that a year ago, I would have been asking the same question.
   My fascination with aging beer started with my third batch of home-brew.  I decided to make an imperial stout.  I also decided that I could craft my own recipe. Now this may not seem like such a bad thing. It was.... Trust me, it was as if I had just learned how to cook and I decided I could make a five course meal.  When the stout had finished fermenting it tasted like bitter, over-roasted jet-fuel.  So not wanting to dump it out, and because it was 9% abv, I decided to let it age. After about 9 months I put it in bottles.  After 11 months it was a wonderfully smooth stout, with just the right amount of alcohol warmth. I still have several bottles and they are still getting better.
That was when I thought:
If age improves a bad beer, how would it affect a great beer? 

  Age can take a good beer and make it great. Just a few months can take the rough edges of a young beer and smooth them out to make a much more rounded experience. 

 Beer cellars have been around for a very long time.  It is tradition in the Belgium Trappist Abbeys.  Some of these breweries have been aging their beers for years before releasing them for sale.  They realized that the beer tasted better after a year or more of maturation.  

It is really easy to cellar beer at home. 
   The most important aspect of aging beer at home is choosing the correct beers to put in the cellar.  Some styles are not meant to age.  In fact some styles of beer begin to deteriorate as soon as they leave the brewery.  This is where the phrase "brewery fresh" comes from.  Examples of styles that should not be aged are IPA's (or any Hop Forward Beers),  American Light Lagers (or most light low alcohol, low flavor beers.  The beers that will benefit from age are generally higher alcohol, and bolder malt flavored styles.  Such as Barleywine, Old Ale, Imperial Stouts and most sour beers.  
   The next thing to consider when starting a home beer cellar is where.  The most important things to consider is temperature and light.  You do not want to cellar your beers in direct sunlight.  Ultraviolet lights will create a chemical reaction that make beer skunky.  You also do not want to store your beer in your attic.  The optimal temperature to keep beer is at around 54 degrees F and with as little temperature swings as possible.  If you don't have a room at 54F thats not a problem.  If you have a basement or a closet that is surrounded by interior walls it should work fine.  Lastly always store your bottles vertically, do not lay them on their side.  Beer will age better if stored upright, it keeps the amount of surface area of beer in contact to air to a minimum.  It will also allow for any yeast sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle. 

   The last, and for me the most interesting, point to consider is Vertical Tasting.  A vertical tasting is when you take several vintages of the same beer and taste them back to back.  This will really give you an idea of how a certain beer is holding up.  When designing your beer cellar for vertical tasting the most important thing to do is buy at least two, preferably three, bottles of each beer that you want to age.  This would give you the ability to drink one bottle now (who doesn't like some instant gratification?)  one bottle to drink in a year, and one to drink once your will power fails.  The true trick to vertical tasting is to get three bottles of the same beer year after year.  

~ Ben 

P.S  In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse screw all of the above and drink the best beer you have first! 


  1. I have this odd space in our laundry area in the basement that goes under the stairs that isn't really big enough to do anything with. My wife would like me to store holiday decorations . . or some other pointless stuff in there. This now gives me more motivation to build attic storage space to store all her . . . .stuff . . . . so I can have my own beer cellar. Just don't let her know.

  2. Ha ha ha ... Thats the important part Dont tell the wife ! If she finds out what we spend on beer $$$ Game over Son ..