Bottle conditioned beer: There doesn't need to be active yeast in the beer for the aging process to work, but it does allow the beer to take on a more complex flavor as the yeast continues to work on the sugars. This means we are looking for key words on our bottle. Things like barrel aged, bottle conditioned etc.
Big alcohol content: Luckily for me, I love big alcohol imperial beers, and triples and quads, ohh my and these are some of the best to age. I have been told to look for at least 8% abv for something to age well. Since then, I did the Vertical Epic by Stone and some of their beers were as low as 7.5% and they tasted great. Some of the styles to look for are:
- Barrel aged (just about anything dark)
- Belgian Strong Beers
- Belgian triples and quads
- Imperial anything pretty much
- Sours (sours are a different deal, they can have lower abv and still work)
Ideally you cellar your beer similarly to wine. You should have a perfectly moist cave somewhere deep in the ground that stays around 50 - 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Sadly central Indiana is not home to many caves, in fact not all of us have basements. We have to make do with what we can. There are a few things to consider when you decide where your cellar is going to be.
Temperature: The temperature should be between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and it should stay that way. You do not want much fluctuation. A jump of ten degrees can really mess up your brew. Because of this people often go to a mini-fridge that they can set to 55. This is not a bad idea, but you have to make sure it doesn't get too dry and that you can store the beer standing up (see below)
Humidity: This is a little bit tricky because basically there needs to be some, but not too much. In low humidity situations the seal on a bottle cap or the cork start to wear away. If you are using a fridge but having problems with humidity, cigar stores sell things to regulate humidity. Propolene glycol pellets could help keep you nice and moist.
Sunlight: As I talk about in my post about cans, beer is super sensitive to light. Do not let light touch it! Wherever you put your beer it should have its own door, lid or cover that you are not forced to open on a regular basis. If you can put it away from sources of light as well that helps.
Bottle Position: Your bottles with caps should be stored upright. This preserves the seal longer and allows the sediment to stay at the bottom of the beer. If you have to cellar them on their side make sure you constantly rotate the beer and keep it upright for a couple hours before serving to get the sediment back to the bottom. Corked beers, like wine, should be stored on their side. This keeps the corks from drying out.
Since I don't have a basement, my "cellar" is an old steamer trunk in my bar area. I have lined it with bottle boxes that I got from home brewing. This allows me to comfortably hold about 50 bombers. I am not able to keep it as cold as it should be, but my house maintains a constant temperature throughout the year (and I have changed some of my thermostat settings to make this even more regular). I cover the top of the beers with heavy blankets to give them a little more insulation and help regulate the temperature just a bit more.
This is a new deal for me, so I am experimenting with some pricey beers that I know are supposed to age, and some regular high proof beers from around Indy. I also use a higher quality oxygen sealing cap for a few homebrews out of every batch, so I can age them as well. I can't guarantee that every beer you age is going to taste better, or you are going to pull a beer and drink it at the right time. What I can say is when beer is involved trial and error can be a lot of fun.
Check out the following spots that I used when putting this all together:
Brewed Awakening by Joshua M. Bernstein