A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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Lucy -

Hi, Alan, another tip: melt some paraffin wax and let cool to lukewarm but still liquid - dip crowns up to the glass neck of the bottle in wax to seal. You can get blocks of paraffin at most hardware/home supply stores and some grocery stores that stock canning goods. This helps prevent oxidation, cheers, Lucy

Alan -

Excellent and el cheapo tip. The best kind. Just like making jam the old fashioned way.

Ethan -

What Lucy said, but with this caveat: if what you're looking for in aging a beer *is* oxidation--barleywines come to mind--then wax sealing might not be a good plan.

Beers I am stashing for real long term-- 3 years or more, roughly--I like to have a pair of so I can seal one and not the other. That way I will be able to assess oxidation separately from other factors.

Craig -

The Marley's Ghost Porter I made just after Christmas is sitting in a carboy, right now, waiting for next Christmas—it's only 6.1%.

Mike -

I'm with you: Melissa Cole must have never heard of trichloroanisole (TCA), which produces corky off-flavors and is more likely to happen when beer comes into contact with cork. Not to mention, any bottle-conditioned beers will end up with the yeast sediment spread along the side of the bottle, resulting in a higher probability of disturbing that sediment when you do get around to opening the bottle. There are many other authorities on beer with more impressive credentials than Ms. Cole who have clearly stated that beer should never be stored on it's side, only standing upright. Just because beer is starting to rival wine does NOT mean that the same rules for handling and storage apply.

Alan -

To be quite fair, I am pretty sure Ms. Cole is not alone in this assumption among the books on my shelf. I will follow up this evening.

Sean -

Anchor's X-mas beer is only ~5.5% and is fantastic after a few years in a dark place. I'm not really sure where Randy gets that from, he mentions it in Radical Brewing as well.

Richard Marques -

This is amazing. I've never heard of aging beer before. As a member of the taste panel at a major brewery in my mind aging of beer brings about thoughts of oxidation and staling reactions, electron spin resonance decay times and the deterioration of flavour. I'm looking forward to chat to our technical brewers about what they know of this. Thanks for expanding my horizons!

Wayne L. -

Unlike Richard I have heard of aged beer but never understood how it could add anything positive. Oxidation at any level is not pleasant and neither is yeast autolysis.

If someone does see a benefit why are they not helping the process along by bubbling air into the aging vessel or package?

Alan -

Because the effect of time alone is more subtle than that. I had a beer the other day from 2008 which was pure infanticide. Needed another 5 to get anywhere near interesting.

Jeph -

I love my beer cellar. It is a fun hobby to age beer and see what beers improve. Vertical tastings are a great way to explore the tastes of beers. And it is so cheap compared to cellaring wine! No special equipment, just a cool dark basement and some shelves. Best thing is you will always have something 'special' to drink when friends come over.

Craig -

Did you read Martyn's take on this, from a few months back? Bottle-ageing beers: The don'ts and do's

Gary Gillman -

All well put, Alan, IMO.

In my experience, it is better to store cork-closed beers upright. I agree that off-flavours, or more of them, can result from the cork if you don't. It seems something peculiar to beer (i.e., wine is exempt).

On the aging of beers as such, the key is bottle-conditioning, a practice not followed by large breweries. When the bottle has residual yeast, the yeast works very slowly, at least for a time, to consume fermentables in the container. This seems to smooth out the beer in that harsh flavours lessen and the hops and malt seem often to combine for the better, meld into an interesting whole. For this purpose, oxygen in the bottle actually helps the process, the yeast uses it to do its work without staling (if the beer is well-made). It is also true that non-damp paper oxidation, such as that which produces port-like flavours, are liked by some people. Some aged beers offer this dimension.

It is not to say some improvement can't result by aging some filtered beers. The knitting together of flavours can occur, again. But the process of maturation is primarily associated with aging beers bottled with their residual yeast. In some cases, the bottles are re-seeded with a second yeast type after rough filtering to get rid of the original yeast: this lessens the chances of an uncontrolled secondary fermentation. But to be sure there is little profit to aging, say, a 5% ABV beer of the ordinary type.

Those in Ontario ho wish to check out the process need merely buy, say. Chimay Rouge, or any other bottle-conditioned beer at LCBO. It is better, I think, to buy Belgian beers, not because they are better than domestic examples (Unibroue in Quebec is the main producer of strong unfiltered beers to my knowledge), but because the trip over from Europe constitutes a kind of pre-aging, a kick-start so to speak to the process. Lay one down for year, then buy a "fresh" one to compare. It's very interesting to do this and (as you know Alan) many beer fans feel aging can confer a lot to some beers.

Gary

Gary Gillman -

Sorry, I meant of course in my last paragraph to say, "Those in Ontario who wish to check out the process, etc.".

Gary

Alan -

I don't know if I read it, Craig, but I posted the second comment! Great advice throughout the post and the other 40 comments it attracted.

Jeff Alworth -

I store my corked bottles on their side, heeding this old advice, but I'm willing to consider changing. The reverse is NOT true--never, ever store capped bottles on their side. Sometimes they rust, which, needless to say, ain't an improvement.

I tend to endorse most of the other items on the list, though. Light beers degrade faster; hoppy beers do weird things. I used to have a hard and fast rule against it until I discovered a couple great vintages. Dark beers, though, go through a chemical reaction that produces those lush, plummy flavors that marry nicely with dark malts.

I pretty much don't age beers under 8% longer than a year unless they've got wild yeast or are bottle-conditioned. The oxidative effects are seriously tempered by yeast, as Gary notes. All bets are off with wild yeasts.

I'd be careful with heat. Your situation may be different, Alan, but I've tasted many a beer destroyed by heat. If you don't have a basement, I wouldn't even consider it. You may get passable beer, but no one cellars bottles to get passable beer.

Finally, I'd say you need to start a cellar and see what you like. People who find oxidation offensive are poor candidates for aging, because even in the best circumstances, you'll pick up a bit. On the other hand, I like a bit of oxidation. I've found which beers work best for me and I now have a nice cellar. Inevitably, I go too long with certain beers, but that's part of the fun, too.

Also, there's something incredibly crowd-pleasing about busting out aged beer at parties. It adds all kinds of cache to a bottle of beer.

Mark -

TCA as mentioned in an above comment is a bad thing but if the cork is infected with TCA standing it upright won't do you any good. If you get a bad cork the beer is ruined from the beginning. If you get a chance talk to Russian River. They're aging corked bottles standing up and laying them down. A bottle laid down seems to be producing a different flavor profile as more of the beer is exposed to the yeast. Interesting stuff.

Alan -

That's why many sensibly priced tasty wines moved to alt-corks long ago.

Mark -

I fail to see what waxing does. If the implication is that a cap or cork does not properly seal, then all aged beer would be flat... and it a cap or cork does not properly seal, then I highly doubt that a bit of wax would provide much improvement upon that.

Ethan -

@mark-

The cap does not, indeed, seal permanently good and forever; it admits air ever so slowly over time. I don't know how to explain that in a more technical way. But there's this- buy a fresh beer, sit on it for a year, then compare it with the same beer, fresh. If it tastes oxidized, then the cap must not be a perfect barrier; it can't be the glass, right? It *will* be flat-er, though in only a year, it might not be completely flat.

Mark -

I fail to understand how a properly sealed bottle, with contents under pressure via CO2, could possibly allow O2 to leak in, while still staying carbonated. And even if this was possible, what evidence is there that a bit of wax is going to prevent this? Oxidation can easily occur inside the bottle, without oxygen getting in.

However, I do agree that some seals are not adequate, and some will slowly lose carbonation over an extended period of time. In fact, I have personally experienced this, yet many of these bottles still show no to little signs of oxidation.

The oxidation in a one-year old, still carbonated beer that you refer to is most certainly not a result of oxygen "leaking into" the bottle. Rather, it is usually caused by poor brewing/packaging processes at the brewery.

Again, I still fail to see any value whatsoever in regards to waxing bottles.

Wayne L. -

It has been well documented that PVC cap liners will slowly allow the ingress of air over time. The normal rate would be about 0.001 to 0.002 ml/day. Although expensive, a new liner material has been developed to act as an oxygen scavenger and essentially halting this process.

That said, it probably is true to say that most oxidation is a result of poor brewing/packaging processes.

Gary Gillman -

Just a further thought, with no science behind it, but rather long experience tasting many kinds of beer kept in cork-closed bottles. I think the cork can impart a taste even if it is not defective in some way, there seems something which gets into the beer in a way different from (or not as noticeable as) wine. Some people aren't bothered by the taste, but personally I've never liked it when it becomes strong, it's a woody, musky-like taste. Is it possible the taste is one of maturity, i.e., not from the cork? Yes, but I don't think so.

For the vast amount of beers sealed with corks, it doesn't matter: they are consumed quickly before any ill effect can occur. For bottles stored for a considerable time though, I believe the cork taste can get in, and thus it is better to stand the bottles upright to keep the cork away from direct contact. It will be interesting though to hear the results of the comparative test being conducted. The extra yeast contact with bottles kept on their sides is an interesting factor, I hadn't thought of it but it makes sense. Michael Jackson used to claim large bottles of Chimay would mature differently than small ones due presumably to differing surface areas and similar factors, etc.

It's another question mark factor in keeping beers a long time, and you can't predict anything anyway really in this area. Each aged bottle will likely be different even of the same brand. Storage factors, especially temperature, are too diverse to really make any sure predictions. But one thing I'd say is, aging is worth trying, occasionally you will get an extraordinary result, and rarely do the beers go bad. They will alter in flavor, but certainly with bottle-conditioned beers that are if well-brewed, rarely will it go sour or acquire a bad taste kept a year or two at least (and often they can go years longer).

Gary

John -

I really enjoy unibroue beers but I have to say at my local liquor store you can look at the bottles that are sealed with a cork and tell that some beer and carbonation has escaped from certain bottles. I have had a couple of bottles that were almost completely flat. Should I and the store be storing these bottles differently? Maybe not having them stand upright? I am honestly kinda angry that I shell out 9 to 15 dollars for a single bottle of beer to have it be flat.