I realized that there are perhaps some of you out there that are just starting to love beer or perhaps have 200 beers on your Taco Mac Brewniversity Club card and you have started to know some stuff. Perhaps you know a few styles you like, however did you know that if you are talking about craft brews they can change? I know! Unlike your Anheuser Busch or MillerCoors, microbrewers deal with issues like shortages of certain hops or different yeast strains. They are often rewarded for creativity as opposed to assuring identical beer all the time.
First myth: Does beer go bad?
Yes! The industry term is skunking and by industry I mean term people use. Skunking is actually the process of oxidizing. Direct sunlight, UV lights, and warm temperatures can all speed up this process. However, it will happen on its own; even if it is in the fridge and dark. Do the experiment yourself. Take two identical beers and leave one on the back deck for a few days. The sunlight will literally destroy the taste, the heat expansion will force the CO2 out of suspension making the beer’s carbonation weird, and then when the heat drops, the beer draws in outside air which re-adds oxygen. Fridge it for four hours and compare the two beers. You will taste the difference. Even an unopened Sam, left in a fridge will go bad in 6 months. Do yourself a favor, make sure to buy beers that are in the dark in the store, those under the store lights will go bad faster, get colder beers, and make sure the store turns over beers quickly; if it has dust, even if it is the best beer in the world, don’t buy it.
Second Myth: Beers in bottles are better!
Kinda! It depends. Until recently, the only companies that could afford canning hardware, thus the canned beer was cheap. However, since air cannot get in and no light can get in good beer in cans lasts longer and is less likely to be damaged in transport.
Third Myth: Aged beer is always better/worse!
That depends on the beer. The general rule that I play by is that it will age well if it is above 7% alcohol or darker than a brick red Crayola. Styles to look for are anything with Imperial or Wine in the name, most Belgian styles work as well. The only exception is the sour styles which tend to be light in color and low alcohol, however they will only age up to a year or so (but be careful, most of them are already aged and the bacteria in them can turn.)
So what changes in an aged beer?
Well, depends on the beers. In all cases, the hop flavor goes down, which is why many young barley wines tend to taste too hoppy. Next, the beer tends to have several kinds of alcohol in it. Ethanol is the alcohol that we think of in boozes of all types, however, in the brewing process the ones that cause the warm, burning flavors are called Fusel alcohols. These are always present, but in aging many break down. This is what is meant by “mellowing.” The high gravity beers will naturally have more of these and it helps to break them down.
I am all set, what should I do?
The best way to do this is to find a cool place. The beer can be in a fridge, but the idea temperature is around 50F-55F. So a cool basement is fine too, just make sure it is dark. This means your normal fridge is not ideal since it is opened fairly recently. Next, don’t move it. Some stuff is settling and shaking the beer will make it go flat, trust me.
So how do I do it? If I buy a beer I want to age, I buy at least an extra. If it is a bomber, by two, or save one from a pack, that way you can taste the difference.
When you drink it, chill it to your desired drinking temp, for most cellar beers this will be around 40-50F, and enjoy. Remember you only serve beer ice cold if you don’t want to taste it.