Cellaring FAQ

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stupac2

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First, the purpose of this FAQ is to address some of the most common questions about cellaring beer. But before starting to cellar beer, you need to ask yourself this question, “What do I want to get out of this?” Know your goals. Do you just want to keep beer until you can drink it? Do you want to see how beer develops with time? Do you want to keep beer for 1 year, 5 years, or 20 years? What kind of flavors do you like in your beer, the kind that fade with time (coffee, fruit, etc) or the kind that increase with time (leather, tobacco, etc)? The way you approach cellaring will depend a lot on the answers to these questions.

Second, the process of beer aging is called “staling”, and you can find a lot of information on the science of it here. The process of staling is primarily caused oxidation, though there are many other processes to consider (for more information on them, read the link). I’ll be using those terms throughout the FAQ, and I wanted to introduce them now.

Finally, I want to be upfront about the fact that people overthink cellaring. Beer is a pretty robust beverage, you don’t need to worry too much about it. To modify Charlie Papazian’s phrase: relax, don’t worry, have a cellared brew.

Q: Does beer get better with time?

A: No, beer changes with time. Whether those changes are good or bad are subjective and only you can decide if you prefer beer with age or not.

That said, the vast majority of people will prefer the vast majority of beers fresh. But since there’s someone who likes everything, there are no categorical truths about what ages well. Some suggestions are listed below.

Q: What styles age well?

A: The canonical list is things that have one or more of the following qualities:

1) Dark
2) Bottle conditioned
3) Sour
4) High ABV

But even then, it will depend a lot on your personal preferences. If you’re not sure what you like, just grab some inexpensive beers in a few styles and put them away for a while. You can also try some aged beers at certain bars, or people in your tasting group may have older stuff if they’ve been around for a while. Either way, the most important thing is to figure out what you like, then to age those styles. It takes a while to actually do this, but it’s the only way!

Q: What styles don’t age well?

A: As always, this depends a lot. In general, fruit fades. If you like fruit beers to be really fruity, don’t age them. In general, coffee fades. If you like a lot of coffee in your beers, don’t age them. Hops fade, if you like hoppy stouts and barleywines (or IPAs, but that goes without saying), then don’t age them.

In addition, beers that are light, non-sour, and low-ABV are unlikely to age well.

Q: What’s the best temperature for cellaring?

A: This depends on your goals. The colder it is, the slower the staling process will be. If you just want to maintain your beer while you find time to drink it, then you should refrigerate it. If you want to see how beer ages with time, then the exact temperature isn’t as important as having it be fairly stable (though you definitely want it to be below around 70 degrees).

The classic answer is that beer should be stored at 55 degrees, though there’s no evidence I’m aware of that backs that up. But if you have a temperature controller and need to set it to something, 55 is a fine choice.

Q: My only available cellar space is in my closet/garage/basement and I can’t control the temperature/humidity/light there, will it be okay?

That depends. Humidity can be an issue for capped bottles, as it can make them rust. If you’re worried about it you could wax your bottles, though make sure they’re bone dry first, otherwise you could cause yourself more issues by trapping moisture inside the wax. Direct sunlight (hopefully through a window, you aren’t cellaring outside, are you?) can be a problem, but if you store your beer in some cardboard boxes that should mitigate it pretty significantly. Throw a tarp over the beer if you have to.

Finally, the uncontrolled temperature can be an issue. When you’re considering a location, get a thermometer and take a few readings over the course of a few days. How stable is it? How much does it track the temperature outside? If you extrapolate that to the hottest and coldest days of the year, what kinds of temperatures are you seeing? As long as the beer doesn’t freeze there’s no such thing as too cold, but if beer gets hot you can develop off flavors really quickly (in a matter of days or hours once you get to 100 degrees). I’m not comfortable aging beer at temperatures much over 70, but if you’re only looking for storage space then it’s probably okay up to about there. It might be fine higher. Try it out with some beers you wouldn’t mind getting overly stale and see what happens.

Q: What orientation should my bottles be stored in, horizontally or vertically?

A: Whatever’s easier for your setup. There are a lot of people who think one way is better than the other, and they have some arguments for their way and against the other, but they all roughly cancel out. The only systematic examination of this in a carbonated beverage was done with Champagne and came down in favor of upright storage, but that was because of cork failure and may be specific to champagne.

Either way, lots of people have had great success with both methods. It’s probably not very important.

Q: Do bigger bottles age better than smaller ones?

A: People claim this, but I’ve never seen a real study of it done. The general claim is that since oxidation is responsible for aging and bigger bottles have a smaller surface area exposed to headspace compared to their volume, they’ll age more gracefully. But that’s conflating oxygen and oxidation (easy to do), and molecular oxygen is not a great oxidizer (see the link above). It’s still possible that this matters, but it strikes me as unlikely.

Q: I really liked beer X, except for this one part, will I like it aged?

A: That depends, does the thing you don’t like about it change with time? Are the other aspects of the beer likely to stay consistent, or change in ways you will enjoy? Without that information, it’s impossible to say.

Q: How do temperature controllers work?

The way that these units work is basically the same as the way the fridge works. It turns the compressor on when the air temperature gets high enough, and then turns it back off when it gets low enough. The only difference is that the fridge’s internal thermometer is bypassed, and a more accurate and controllable one is used instead.

These controllers are a great solution to turning a normal fridge into a cellar, and are available at numerous places online.


If you have any questions that aren’t on here (or take issue with an answer I give) either BM me or ask here and I’ll update the post.
 
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stupac2

stupac2

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Not sure what's more impressive, the sheer awesomeness of Stu's post or that domtronzero liked it in less than one minute?

It's ok...tl;dr here too (for now)
I'm also totally serious with the note at the end, if there's anything people think they can improve on, please post it here.
 

Adam Jackson

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Awesome post! I love iOS "Reader" mode. Makes it easy to read long and informative posts. Takes away the noise and formats the text like a book.

Going to pass this one on to friends. Did you post this on a blog or write it just for BT?

ofuDknVl.jpg
 

duketheredeemer

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Props for being even-handed on the big cellaring debates and sticking to the evidence! If it's cool with you, I may have to link people who ask me about cellaring here.
 
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stupac2

stupac2

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Sierra Nevada is bottle conditioned. Can I cellar SNPA?
You can cellar whatever your little heart desires.

I put "bottle conditioned" on there because, as I said, that's the canonical list. I think that's by far the weakest one on there (though they all have their faults), but it's typically on the list so I kept it. "Bottle conditioned with wild yeasts or bacteria" may make more sense.
 

flexabull

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Nicely done.

Any info on the difference between aging corked vs. capped beers?

Also, I've read bigger is better for bottle size. At least as far as wine is concerned.
 

jedwards

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Also, I've read bigger is better for bottle size. At least as far as wine is concerned.

It's definitely true for wine, but it's specifically because wine corks are porous (this is also the reason that minor temperature fluctuation is much worse for wine than beer), and in a large-format bottle the ratio of gas-exposed surface area to volume is much lower so the wine ages more "slowly" and stays in the sweet spot for longer. It may be true for beer, but I haven't heard a specific reason to think so (one notional possibility is that any ongoing microbial activity might proceed differently under the larger pressure at the bottom of the bottle -- this is the case for large fermentation tanks, but it seems unlikely that it would be significant in a bottle) and the few side-by-side tastings that I've been in didn't show any significant difference. My thought is that bottle size likely doesn't affect the way the beer ages, and if it does it's on a timeline much longer than most people are aging beer for.
 
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stupac2

stupac2

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Nicely done.

Any info on the difference between aging corked vs. capped beers?
I'm not aware of any, though there may potentially be differences. That's a good question though.

Also, I've read bigger is better for bottle size. At least as far as wine is concerned.
Is this in addition to what I said? I know people say it but I don't think the rationales make sense.
 

flexabull

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Is this in addition to what I said? I know people say it but I don't think the rationales make sense.

Yeah, who knows, I'm not sure it's even applicable to beer anyways. Doesn't matter much, because I've only seen large format stuff done by some Belgian Brewers, (Chimay, Duvel, etc) RR, and Stone.
 

JulianB1

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I'm not aware of any, though there may potentially be differences. That's a good question though.


Is this in addition to what I said? I know people say it but I don't think the rationales make sense.

I'd be really interested to see the results of a 2009 BCBS bomber vs. 12oz blind taste test, where both bottles were purchased at the same time (preferably close to the release date) and stored in the exact same cellar conditions the entire time. It would go a long way to either backing up or striking down the mythology surrounding the '09 bomber.
 

claaark13

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I'd be really interested to see the results of a 2009 BCBS bomber vs. 12oz blind taste test, where both bottles were purchased at the same time (preferably close to the release date) and stored in the exact same cellar conditions the entire time. It would go a long way to either backing up or striking down the mythology surrounding the '09 bomber.

Wasn't the '09 a screw-top on the 12oz bottles though?
 

MordorMongo

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I'd be really interested to see the results of a 2009 BCBS bomber vs. 12oz blind taste test, where both bottles were purchased at the same time (preferably close to the release date) and stored in the exact same cellar conditions the entire time. It would go a long way to either backing up or striking down the mythology surrounding the '09 bomber.
I've actually done this, but it was in 2011 so not real conclusive. Both were purchased by me and kept by me from purchase. Poured them blind at a tasting and bomber *won* 6 votes to 12oz's 2 votes. Of course I long ago drank all my 09's so cannot repeat. Everyone seemed to agree the bomber was more gooey fudge brownie while the single was a tad thinner. Just my two cents.

Should mention everyone involved was, and is currently, an alcoholic so any opinions were long forgotten.
 

quirkzoo1

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I've actually done this, but it was in 2011 so not real conclusive. Both were purchased by me and kept by me from purchase. Poured them blind at a tasting and bomber *won* 6 votes to 12oz's 2 votes. Of course I long ago drank all my 09's so cannot repeat. Everyone seemed to agree the bomber was more gooey fudge brownie while the single was a tad thinner. Just my two cents.

Should mention everyone involved was, and is currently, an alcoholic so any opinions were long forgotten.

Another variable in this situation would be that I assume the bombers and the 12oz bottles were bottled from different batches/blends. Obvious Goose Island does a really good job with consistency but there has to be some variation from barrel to barrel that could also account for this.
 

ridglens

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It's definitely true for wine, but it's specifically because wine corks are porous (this is also the reason that minor temperature fluctuation is much worse for wine than beer), and in a large-format bottle the ratio of gas-exposed surface area to volume is much lower so the wine ages more "slowly" and stays in the sweet spot for longer. It may be true for beer, but I haven't heard a specific reason to think so (one notional possibility is that any ongoing microbial activity might proceed differently under the larger pressure at the bottom of the bottle -- this is the case for large fermentation tanks, but it seems unlikely that it would be significant in a bottle) and the few side-by-side tastings that I've been in didn't show any significant difference. My thought is that bottle size likely doesn't affect the way the beer ages, and if it does it's on a timeline much longer than most people are aging beer for.


Along similar lines, i'm wondering if it might have something to do with the surface area exposed to light? Assuming that (especially in darker beers) light is absorbed as it enters the beer, the "deeper" beer would be more protected from light than the beer close to the bottle. obviously, larger bottle=more volume/area = more protected beer?

as for myself, i know some of it has to do with the fact that larger format bottles are more expensive, and when i pay more for something i just know it tastes better ;)
 
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stupac2

stupac2

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Along similar lines, i'm wondering if it might have something to do with the surface area exposed to light? Assuming that (especially in darker beers) light is absorbed as it enters the beer, the "deeper" beer would be more protected from light than the beer close to the bottle. obviously, larger bottle=more volume/area = more protected beer?

as for myself, i know some of it has to do with the fact that larger format bottles are more expensive, and when i pay more for something i just know it tastes better ;)
That seems unlikely to me, since most things will be aged in places that are pretty dark, and labels will confound the analysis a lot. But you never know.
 

Osyrus

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I've read a variety of things about what types of light bulbs affect beer the most (general consensus seems to be that incandescent are best), but there seems to be some conflicting info out there. Can anyone shed some... er... light... on the issue?
 
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stupac2

stupac2

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I've read a variety of things about what types of light bulbs affect beer the most (general consensus seems to be that incandescent are best), but there seems to be some conflicting info out there. Can anyone shed some... er... light... on the issue?
As far as I know it's just sunlight that has really detrimental effects. Light can speed up some chemical reactions, but I don't think it's clear a priori whether that would be good or bad.

Regardless, I've never seen any information on this from any source that I would trust. I'll ask the one contact I have who might know.
 

domtronzero

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Not sure what's more impressive, the sheer awesomeness of Stu's post or that domtronzero liked it in less than one minute?

It's ok...tl;dr here too (for now)
I can read pretty fast. And BTW, I liked it about halfway through reading it just because I "liked" that Stu took the time to write it up.
 

Bill2

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Another variable in this situation would be that I assume the bombers and the 12oz bottles were bottled from different batches/blends. Obvious Goose Island does a really good job with consistency but there has to be some variation from barrel to barrel that could also account for this.

Yes. Even with fresh BCBS you can tell that different bottlings have very distinct differences, while being basically similar. I think the 2012 8/23 bottling will fall off sooner, was less hot, the 9/17 should age very very well.
 

MordorMongo

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I've read a variety of things about what types of light bulbs affect beer the most (general consensus seems to be that incandescent are best), but there seems to be some conflicting info out there. Can anyone shed some... er... light... on the issue?
I keep mine under some high pressure sodium lights I had (for science), someone told me that was a bad idea and tried to explain about spectrums and such. My assumption is unless you got those 1,000 watters on that sun circle it shouldn't matter other than no light is best.

Bonus points for those that get my reference.
 

snowrs1

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I keep mine under some high pressure sodium lights I had (for science), someone told me that was a bad idea and tried to explain about spectrums and such. My assumption is unless you got those 1,000 watters on that sun circle it shouldn't matter other than no light is best.

Bonus points for those that get my reference.
It's a bad idea because you are like wasting that valuable light on things that will not appreciate it. Shame on you.
 

BusinessSloth

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Maybe this was answered earlier in the thread, but that's why I'm a lazy sloth and don't read.

How do breweries make these sweeping statements about aging their beers? For example, Goose Island's famous, "Will develop in the bottle for up to 5 years, or Cantillon's 10+years whatever-is-on-their-labels". How do these breweries come to that conclusion that the beer inside will develop in the bottle for that long? Is there an accelerated aging process they use to determine how long a beer can be cellared before it starts to go downhill?
 
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