The majority of beer styles are meant to be enjoyed fresh, although certain beers can develop positively over time, but cellaring beer provides no guarantee that the beer will be any better than when it was fresh. Volatile compounds, like hop aroma, change when beer is aged. The hops actually deteriorate over time and after about 90 days are about gone in the beer. Drinking hoppy beers fresh allows you to experience all the hop aroma and bitterness that the brewer intended to be there when he brewed the beer. Big American IPAs are intended to be enjoyed as fresh as possible.
There are four main enemies of beer, Light, Oxygen, Heat, and Time. Light (UV rays) will make compounds in the beer break down, and create the skunky aroma/taste. Oxygen in beer creates a chemical reaction that makes the beer have off-flavors and a wet cardboard-like sensation. Heat accelerates chemical reactions, breaking down molecules into smaller ones, making the beer age faster. Time, all three of the previous elements just get worse over time.
Cellaring beer can be a gamble as many beers that are “Cellarable” change over time and in ways that may be predictable but aren’t always. The cellaring temperature, humidity and location can also change how quickly a beer ages or changes. If you have the means to cellar beer it can be a great educational experience to taste a vertical of the same beer and taste side by side how the characteristics and flavors develop over time.
In order to cellar beer you need to have the right environment for the beer, here are a few tips for creating the proper environment.
Beer Style: Craft Beers over 7% ABV with strong flavors (smoked malt, chocolate malt, roastiness, etc) tend to handle age better than lower ABV beers and lighter profile beers (pale ales, IPAs). Sour beers, Lambics, Belgian Beers and very high in alcohol beers are also usually suitable.
Light: Ultraviolet light reacts with compounds in beer to develop the skunky character. Beer needs to be stored away from any light, in the dark, or in UV protected cases.
Temperature: Warmer temperatures speed up the effect of aging. Beers need to be kept cool, and cellar temperature, 50-55 degrees for proper aging. Keeping the beers colder, like in a cooler, will delay the effects of aging.
Movement: Agitation aides in the effects of oxidation and age. Set the beers in a place that they won’t be moved too often. In addition, store beers upright, unlike wine to allow sediment to sit on the bottom and the cap of the beer not deteriorate.
There are many effects that can happen when aging a beer. The flavor of the beer will change a lot, here are a few aging effects.
Fruity and floral esters decrease
Ribes (catty/black currant character) increase
Wet paper/cardboard character increases
Bready character increases
Sweetness (toffee/honey) increases
Metallic character increases
Earthy character increases
Straw character increases
Woody character increases
Vinous character (wine/sherry/stale fruit) increases
Meaty-like brothy flavors can develop