All about aging (beer, that is).
It’s not even December yet and already I’ve been invited to two holiday parties, and am pretty sure I’ve agreed to go to someone’s house for a special dinner with friends. As much as I hate the holiday creep, these occasions do give me a chance to show off a little by bringing over a special beer that has been aging for one year or more in my cellar.
Surprising as it sounds for many, cellaring isn’t just for wine. Aging your beer can often be one of the most surprising, rewarding, and, if you have company over, often impressive things to do with beer. Allowing certain beers the time to further ferment in bottle, strong flavours can mellow out, revealing complex notes you may not have noticed before. If a beer starts with a sharp and pronounced alcohol bite, time can lower that burn down to a simmer and allow the more sweet notes to rise, resulting in a sublime beer experience.
The first thing you need, of course, is a place to store your beer. Ideally, it would be a dark, cool place. For house owners, this means just going down to the basement. Apartment dwellers will need to be a bit more creative in finding a space (though I have it on good authority that a closet with some space will do in a pinch).
And next up is your beer. Now, it can’t be just any beer. Drinks that are light in ABV or high in hop profile are not going to do, since those beers are best when consumed fresh. What you want is something high in ABV, high in fermentable sugars, and even beers that are labelled as “bottle conditioned,” which means that the brewers want further fermentation to happen in bottles. Usually, imperial stouts or abbey ales are your best bet. If you aren’t sure on whether your beer can be aged, the best thing to do is to look around the bottle for an expiry date. If you see a year that hasn’t come yet, then it can be aged.
To help get you started, here are a few beers available through the LCBO that can stand to be aged for a while.
Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus is once again arriving in stores for the winter seasonal release for $5 a bottle, and this beer is an absolute treat to age. On its own, it’s a 14 per cen ABV beer already aged 10 months before bottling, with notes of toasted caramel and dried fruit. However, this beer is said to be at optimum drinkability after a whopping 20 years of aging. Expect this beauty to get creamier and sweeter as time goes on. While it’s a fantastic beer fresh, it ages remarkably.
New Holland Dragon’s Milk is another beer coming up in the winter months and at $7.95; it’s one of my favourite imperial stouts out there. Aged in bourbon barrels, it is a creamy beer with lovely hints of chocolate, coffee, and the warming, syrupy note from the bourbon. I’ve had this beer aged for one to two years and can say right now that those chocolate notes rise up over time, making this beer a work of art.
Westmalle Tripel, besides being one of the only beers to make me weep with how beautiful a beer it was (no really), is also a perfect beer to age. While fresh from the LCBO at the small price of $3.40, expect notes of honey and dried fruit with spices, but over time, the alcohol burn found in the beer lowers significantly, leaving the honey, fruit, and spice notes to rise in beautiful harmony together.
The final step left is…patience. It’s incredibly hard to know that there is beer around your place just patiently sitting around, but if you have the willpower and are able to forget about it, you’ll end up with an incredible beer that shows that all good things come to those who wait.