Weyerbacher

How do I cellar beer?

This is a subject that comes up in many of the tours I conduct here at Weyerbacher.  I attempt to address it as time allows but it is a subject I believe worthy of significant attention.  I’m not a pro at this, either.  This is simply an account of what I do in my own personal cellar.  I invite and encourage you to add your thoughts, comments, and advice in the comments section below.  This is intended to be a living document and something the novice beer collector can use as a resource point.  Perhaps we can all learn best practices from one another!

Remember: these are tips and details aimed at maximizing the consistency and longevity of your long-term storage collection (generally speaking).

What can be cellared?

This is all a matter of personal taste however higher-alcohol malty beers are the best to cellar.  Belgian quadrupels and some triples, barleywines, lambics, stouts are all ideal candidates.  Most hoppy beers don’t cellar well.  They just aren’t intended to do so.  Hoppy beers are intended to have a pronounced citrus, piney or floral nose about them and a finite bitterness with all sorts of wonderful flavors which come along for the ride.  These traits all start to fade the moment a hoppy beer is bottled or kegged.  The fresher your hoppy beer is, the more it will taste the way the brewer intended it.  There is a certain IPA from Delaware that does cellar really well but to be clear, it is the exception, not the rule.  :^)  Oxidation will happen, there is no way around it.  Geeks can read an awesome article about oxidation here.

Bottle Position

The term ‘lay some beer down’ is a misnomer.  For beer it really means to simply set some aside.  ’Lay down’ is a wine term; ageing wine requires one to physically lay the bottle on its side.  For beer (and Champagne), it’s always best to store it right-side up for lots of reasons among which are these:

  • There is generally more sediment in beer than wine and storing it vertically allows the sediment to gather on the bottom so when poured, it remains in the bottle.  Note:  some people prefer to rouse the sediment and drink it all anyway.  I am one of those people however I only do it in the last inch of beer in the bottle and I will ‘charge’ my last glass of beer with that thicker mixture so I can taste the beer both ways.
  • The caps we use here are ‘oxygen scrubbing’ and can assist in the longevity of the beer if stored vertically.  Storing a pressurized bottle (especially a corked and caged one) is better vertically as the tiny amount of air that can and does get into the bottle (something like 1 part per billion per day even with oxygen scrubbing caps) will generally sit ABOVE the CO2 bed inside the airspace.  CO2 is heavier than ‘air’, creating a zone of more inert gas within the bottle to protect the beer.  Don’t get me wrong, gasses do mix even when sitting still- just picture the surface area of beer to air in a vertical and a horizontal position.  The horizontal position draws out the air into a long and thin space and hugely increases the surface area of beer to air.  You want the airspace compacted horizontally so the air can stratify vertically above the smallest possible surface area of beer.
  • If laid on its side, some corked bottles of beer may allow seepage between the cork and the bottle, effectively gluing the cork in place.  This adds extra and unnecessary drama when attempting to remove the cork.
  • With regard to the steel ‘crowns’ (read: caps), they will rust over time with prolonged contact to the beer so it is better to keep beer and cap apart by storing the bottle vertically.

 

 

Proper Cellaring Environment

Get a cave.  No?  Get a giant walk-in cooler.  Can’t afford that?  Oh, you’re normal.  Read on!

General Rules:

  • Age the beer in an area with consistent, cool(er) temperature.  Not available?  Everyone has a coat closet.  Stick it somewhere like that.
  • Age the beer vertically (except for lambics bottled relatively still and with a press-fit cork and a metal cap.  Example: Cantillon).
  • Age the beer in a dark environment – and it is best to keep it in its box.

 

Things to AVOID like cheap fizzy yellow beer or the plague (not sure which is worse):

  • Heat = bad.  Cooking your beer isn’t ideal for ageing.  Your car trunk or interior in the summer while you stop at the store on the way home from the brewery or retail store can superheat your freshly purchased beer.  This is BAD for the longevity of the beer.  If you intend to drink it soon, it is not as big a deal but the longer it is exposed to heat, the worse the beer will be effected.  So, an IPA that gets a good cooking will be like an older IPA which we all know isn’t very yummy.
  • Frequent temperature fluctuations will decrease the life of your cellar-able beer.
  • Light affects the hop oils and proteins and creates what people call ‘skunked’ beer which is actually ‘light-struck’ beer.  Keep it dark!  It literally only takes about 5 minutes of UV light from indoor florescent bulb or the sun to kill that beer (from a cellaring perspective, anyway).  Beware the florescent-lit refrigerated case at your local store!
  • Gravity (secure your bottles and tape your boxes if they’re weak).

 

Helpful hints:

  • Keep a sharpie and a roll of painter’s tape in the cellar area.  Label the date or just the year on each beer entering the cellar.  Some beers, like our Insanity, age really well but may have only been dated on the outer box so once the box is open and the beer moves around a little, it can get confused with other vintages.  We now date code our beers (bottles-on and freshest-by) around the neck however things happen and a bottle could be missed leaving it undated.
  • Always keep a few 4 packs and 6 packs (empty) near the cellar so it is easy to transport more than one bottle while not accidentally getting a case of the “a-few-beers-in dropsies”.
  • If you have an unfinished stone or concrete basement which is largely NOT air conditioned or heated and is simply ‘ambient’, this is an ideal place to put your cellar.  Make sure that the room is weather-tight.  If you have a finished modern basement, these rooms are almost as warm or as cool as the rest of the house so be smart about it – don’t put the collection near the furnace or a Bilco door – put it in a closet somewhere that (ideally) has an exposed concrete wall in it to help regulate the temperature in that closet.  Beware the sump pump closet though…  it’s humid in there and the cardboard can mold or break down or let loose at the glued seams.
  • You can refrigerate a beer and then return it to room temperature without skunking it.  It’s simply not ideal for stuff you want to age indefinitely. Skunking is a function of light, not refrigeration.
  • Freeze – There are varying schools of thought on this subject.  My personal school says to avoid it (for consistency’s sake).  Common sense suggests that it isn’t ideal for your collection because you put the glass, can, cap or cork at risk of failing.  Freezing can happen and if it does, all hope is not lost.  Google the subject – the responses run the gamut.  Some beers (like Eisbock) are made specifically by freezing and removing the water from the beer to concentrate the beer.

 

Hopefully you will find these pointers useful for your collection.  If you have any questions and don’t want to post them in the comments, click the ‘Contact Us’ tab up above and shoot me a message!  I’ll add the content to the comments below if it’s useful for the content of this post.

Cheers!

Bill

 

posted by Bill Bragg in News and have Comments (24)

24 Responses to “How do I cellar beer?”

  1. avatar Ron says:

    Oops, I guess aging (cellaring) in the family fridge, on the door no less, is not a good idea for many reasons.
    Too cold.
    Too much light exposure.
    Too much agitation, especially on the door scenario.
    I do have a semi-finished cellar and even a separate root cellar. I think the latter just became a beer cellar. LOL

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      Ron: remember cold isn’t bad for cellaring… you just don’t have much ROOM in there… and all those other things you listed… yeah, not good*. :^)

      *for extended ageing.

      • Generally though, doesn’t a colder temperature (IE Fridge) slow down aging? Maybe that’s a myth, but I remember reading that somewhere a while ago.

        • avatar Bill Bragg says:

          Jeff, that is kinda unknown. Constant and fridge thru comfortable all seem to work fine. My personal cellar is about 60 degrees year round and beer is doing very well. Your call! The cost of the energy for all the fridges is probably prohibative. Dry basements are awesome!

  2. avatar Fowlergator says:

    Great post. Thanks for helping out a noob.

  3. avatar Matt says:

    What are the recommended ‘shelf life’ of your bigger beers? Does the brewery keep any cellared? Any tasting notes for vintage Weyerbacher beers?

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      I think this is a good place to start assembling any such notes!
      I’ll get the freshness dates posted (and linked here) shortly.

  4. avatar liljohn says:

    http://www.thebarleyblog.com/2011/beer-cooler-set-up/

    This is a great blog on how to build a storage cellar. He uses a chest freezer with a regulator to keep it at a constant temp.

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      Good info, liljohn! It’s great to be able to build rooms and devices to assist but for those that can only just afford the beer I wanted them to know where in their house is best to start.

  5. avatar ALEXD says:

    Excellent Post! I was worried for a minute because I stored my Cantillons on their side while the rest of my beers remain upright, I’m glad that is the correct methods for each.

  6. avatar Joe W says:

    Bill one question your statement ” It literally only takes about 5 minutes of UV light from indoor florescent bulb or the sun to kill that beer (from a cellaring perspective, anyway). Wouldn’t all beers on store shelves fit this description “Killed” .
    Also are you implying “all” lambic with metal cap and cork should be stored on their side for longevity? Thank you, joe

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      Great question, Joe! DAYLIGHT and SUN and beer don’t mix. It’s the Ultraviolet Light that ‘strikes’ the beer and can set off reactions with the [forgive the pause here but protiens? I'm not a scientist so I'll get this corrected shortly] which change the flavor of the beer.

      Re: lambics, I’d say yes: low carbon dioxide content (flatter) lambics, et al. have the cork and cap. I have in my cellar presently: Rodenbach Vin de Cereal (replying from cell phone with no spellcheck capability) and Cantillon. All my other beers are vertical.

  7. avatar Steph says:

    Bill, I’m happy to provide the nerd angle here – photons in the light essentially provide enough energy to cause the same compounds that make a beer taste ‘hoppy’ to combine with sulfur compounds that are also commonly found in beer. The resulting chemical is actually very similar to the spray that skunks use for self defense. So literally it is ‘skunking’ the beer.
    Light in the blue spectrum and near ultraviolet are the worst for beer, while green isn’t much better. That’s why beer in blue and green bottles tend to skunk more quickly than those in brown bottles (The color of the bottle is the color of the light the glass allows to transmit through).

  8. avatar Mike says:

    Great Post! Each year, except last, I cellar at least two cases each of Quad, Insanity and Heresy. All three age extremely well. They never make it to the refrigerator. I enjoy them straight from the basement to the glass. Looking forward to this year’s Quad release.

  9. avatar James says:

    I age my beers in my closet behind my shirts to block any light, it seems to be slightly cooler in there from the rest of the house, say 65 degrees. I only do 1-3 bottles of each beer, havnt cracked any open since I started doing I though. I have had success againg beers in the fridge before, in the extra garage fridge. I aged some *cough* *cough* deleware state beer that starts with a D 120 ipa in that fridge. Got to say it is a hell of a lot better when aged for 2 years even in the fridge. The reason that ipa ages well is because its closer to a barley wine than an ipa, I thinkbthat it is mislabeled, that my opinion though; it falls way out of the range of an ipa or imperial ipa.

  10. avatar Andrew says:

    I understand what you are saying about hoppy beers, but here’s another question:
    I bought two bottles of Viridis Lupulus this year. The thought was “drink one, age one” and to do this annually as the hop bill changes from year to year. Doing this, I hope to compare tasting notes from the previous year, as well as to compare the annual releases.
    Is this a dumb thought?

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      Not dumb at all! It will degrade with time and 1 year is a bit much for an IPA of any caliber. My suggestion is to take really good notes. Drink ‘em now…. one solo, then one with some friends who are really good at naming what they taste / smell. Then, make your notes. Better to enjoy them now then realize next year that it isn’t the beer to that with. Tiny, Merry Monks, Althea and Blasphemy are all suitable for your plan!

  11. avatar Ed says:

    How long should I cellar a 2013 Blasphemy before drinking it? What do you recommend as it is a high alcohol bottle conditioned beer.

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      Hi Ed! It’s completely your call. I have had quads which are over 10 years old which taste absolutely amazing so I now cellar quads like I contribute to my IRA: constantly! I suggest you cellar a case or so and taste one a year (and keep your notes IN / ON the box) and see where it is going. If it’s to you’re liking, get more. If you like it fresher, have a party! It’s entirely personal preference.

  12. avatar Robby says:

    After reading this, I’ve apparently been storing my beer in the right place all along, deep inside my closet! Who knew I’d do this right! Thanks for the informative piece.

  13. avatar Alex says:

    Cellaring in a fridge = rusted caps.

    • avatar Bill Bragg says:

      You should NOT get rusty caps cellaring in the fridge unless you have an unusually humid fridge (which is sorta the opposite of a fridge).

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