If you’ve read our last article you will have learnt a bit about how your ales are aging, the question becomes what should you age and how? Keep in mind that these are general rules, it is not uncommon that you find a beer that goes against the rules. Most will fall in line but that shouldn’t stop you trying different things.
The first thing to remember is that unlike wines, ales don’t need years of aging. Though It is not unheard of that a very dark and alcoholic stout can be kept for years to become amazing, for most you really don’t need more than 6 months to 1 year. And a year is pushing it for many. It is certainly always worth experimenting with a bottle and seeing how good it gets after an extended period, it is unlikely that the ale will be ruined but chances are that it would be better at an earlier date.
However one thing aging beer and wine does have in common is storage conditions. You want a dark cool environment to store your ale in just like wine. Light penetrating the bottle can break substances down which is why brown bottles are so common, don’t worry if you use green or clear as keeping them out the light is the real key. Light especially effects hops, breaking down the substances they add. So you really don’t want a hoppy beer getting a lot of light exposure. A cool environment makes everything less reactive and more likely to go dormant. It doesn’t stop everything from happening, which you wouldn’t want anyway, but your beer will last much longer if you keep it cool. Also keep in mind that cool does not mean cold, you don’t need or want to be freezing your beer. You generally want to keep them at 10-15C, although you may personally find that a beer tastes better at a different temperature. Don’t feel like you can’t experiment, just that keeping a beer warm will nearly never be a good idea.
So how well do different ales age? Keep in mind this is to reach their peak, not to be drinkable. You may also find that personally you like it earlier or later. Don’t let what is “proper” spoils what you enjoy. So for the 5 most common types of ale, how well do they age?
IPAs- Not very well, 6 months is about the most you want to leave it. IPA was designed to reach its peak in about that time so no need to go storing it for years.
Stouts – Very well, especially the more alcoholic varieties. They can be left for a huge amount of time or drunk in a few weeks.
Pale – Generally very well. Mellow ales will usually see a shift in what elements become strong and weak. So they really depend on your personal taste.
Brown- Same as pale, though usually being maltier they age even better.
Lager – About 8-9 months is the limit, you really won’t see much improvement after that and they are good young anyway.
Keep in mind though that these are generalities and it can change quite a bit depending what is in your ale. For example our Logger’s Lager generally wants to be drunk earlier than 8 months, while our Schwarzschmied Lagerbier can be left quite a while because of its dark stout like properties. Ultimately you really need to experiment and find out what you like. There are general rules but what we make doesn’t always fit the norm.