The concepts of a beer cellar and aging beer are both very new even among many craft beer enthusiasts. As the craft industry continues to grow, sales surge and customer demand for a wider range of styles increases, so has the culture of storing, preserving and sharing aged beers.
Beer cellaring is so new, in fact, that even in the age of the Internet, information on the topic is slim. Since the finished product is entirely subjective to taste, opinions may not always be consistent from one person to the next. Where the wealth of information lies, then, is with the beer enthusiasts, homebrewers and brewmasters who are practicing and learning the art of cellaring beer.
I reached out to friends and industry professionals in Houston who keep collections of cellared beers -- some of which are several hundreds of bottles large -- to help me build a solid foundation of information on cellaring. What follows is a basic idea of how to begin storing and aging beer for future enjoyment months and even years down the road.
Basic Beer Storage Guidelines
The art and science of storing and aging beer is not only subjective -- it is one that's still being flushed out in the brewing community. That said, there are three basic rules to storing beer for any extended period of time.
Light Control: Light damages beer quickly. And while it isn't quite the nefarious ruiner of beer that Samuel Adams commercials might have you believe, less light is always better. Keeping your beer out of direct light sources will keep it happy.
Temperature: The ideal temperature for long-term storage of beer is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Since this is not always possible without expensive refrigeration options, the most important thing to do is keep the temperature as steady as possible and under approximately 85 degrees.
Upright Storage: This is the easy one. Don't store bottles or cans on their sides. By keeping beer upright, you are limiting the amount of the beer surface area that's exposed to any remaining oxygen in the bottle, thus slowing oxygenation. And oxygenation is ultimately the degradation of any beer.
Not everyone has the space, money or time to set up a perfect, ideal beer cellar. Not to worry, though: Almost every household has the basic requirements for storing beer.
All you need to keep bottles -- or cans, for that matter -- safe and healthy is a space that follows our three guidelines: a dark area with a relatively constant temperature where the beer can be stored upright. For most people the easiest answer is a cabinet, chest or even a spare closet. As one savvy friend noted: When using a closet, it's best that the closet be on the interior of the home. Not only will the temperature stay more constant, it will be less susceptible to the Texas heat if the closet doesn't have an exterior wall.
Even a closet is not necessary if space contraints become an issue. Kyle White, of Duff Distributing, who owns several hundred bottles, readily admits that -- while not ideal -- the only space for his ever-growing collection of beers is simply in an open room.
If you happen to have a spare fridge in your kitchen or garage, this is also an excellent option for storage. While most refrigerators operate below the ideal temperature threshold for aging, your beer will still remain content tucked away under refrigeration.
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If only perfectly ideal will do, you can take your refrigerator to the next level. It's relatively simple to modify most refrigerators or chest freezers with a temperature regulator. Available through homebrew stores like DeFalcos or Backyard Homebrewers, a regulator can set your device to run at the optimal 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This will keep your beer at a temperature safe from damage but which leaves any yeast active and your beer ever-changing.
Now that you have a basic area chosen for storage, the question becomes this: What beers should you bother storing? Next week, we'll look at which styles of beers benefit most from aging, which beers to avoid cellaring and how to get the most out of aging your beers.