Ah, beer cellaring. It’s a strange idea that runs contrary to many people’s ideas about beer storage – and rightly so. Most beers are designed to be consumed fresh and with the utmost haste, and to be refrigerated the whole time they’re waiting on you to need a drink. This certainly applies to mass-market lagers, with their relatively low alcohol contents and dainty amounts of malt, as well as popular craft beers like pale ales and IPAs, with their signature massive amounts of hops, whose pleasant flavors and aromas deteriorate quickly and can impart some unwelcome flavors into the beer on their way out. In fact, Belgian wit beers, American porters, German pilsners, English brown ales and pretty much every beer style you can think of should be ingested as soon as possible after you get your hands on it.
But luckily for you (and the direction of this article), there are exceptions. There are some wonderful exceptions, in fact, whose flavors will soften, ripen and coalesce in dramatic ways when stored for a relatively short time under the right circumstances. In contrast to most wines, you’ll notice big changes in many beers after only a year or so of aging – not very long to wait for a “vintage” beer payoff. Plus, beer is cheap! Even the most expensive beers’ price tags pale at the sight of the prices on fine wines. This means you can build a quality starter beer cellar for around $150 (with 10-12 large-format beers), and even more importantly, take chances on buying beers whose aging potential you’re unsure of. Last but not least, starting a beer cellar is an undeniably fun educational experience – you will learn tons about beer styles, flavors and ingredients, and you’ll get to drink a beer each time you get down to studying.
So what do you need to get started? A little bit of cash, a decent amount of patience and a few ground rules for what types of beers to age (generally non-hoppy, high-alcohol ones) and how to store them (generally in a dark and cool place where the temperature doesn't jump around too much). Keep your grapes peeled for the next article in this series, where we’ll discuss the guidelines for aging beer in greater detail and talk about where to build the perfect cellar in your home. Until then, keep on tasting, grasshoppers.