Little do some beer aficionados realize that a new and exciting subculture has been brewing up among beer connoisseurs for a number of years. Results and experimentation have shown that some beer proves to get better with age. New flavors are being churned out like never before. Aromas which are being described as fudgy, nutty, malty, like dry fruit, and caramel-like, are adding a fascinating complexity to beers that have already been long appreciated. As Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn suggested in an article for Esquire called "Vintage beer is now a thing," the flavors are a much richer and more savory form of their younger selves; they are breadier and yeastier. These are beers intended to be savored, not something you would want to chug during a grueling game of cribbage. Aged beer is meant to be relished like a fine wine.
Appreciate. So how does someone appropriately revel in this little-known niche variety of beer? Breweries have long offered flights of select brews. Flights have always been a respected method to savor, compare and contrast everything an establishment has to offer. Carry this same concept of side-by-side comparison over to the world of vintage beers and you have what some people are referring to as a vertical tasting. By comparing a properly aged beer with versions of its younger self, you can investigate how the notes and aromas have developed.
Vintage-making hobby. If you would like to age your own beer, take note. There are specifications to the science of aging beer. Most beers are not meant to age and will become something that is not conducive to an enjoyable experience. The beer really needs to be strong, with at least 8 percent alcohol by volume, as Alastair Bland explains in his article "Vintage beer? Aficionados say some brews taste better with age," from The Salt. The beer you do choose to age should be of the malty and dark variety. While hops bitterness should be present in your selection, beers that are high in hops should be enjoyed young. High hops content leads to an unpleasant flavor in the aging process. It doesn't stop there; they should also be fairly high in sugar content. Beers to stick with in starting your own cellar include:
- Barley wines
- Imperial stouts
- Strong ales
Aging process tips. Beer needs to be kept at a consistently cool temperature and away from direct light, lest we stumble upon the dreaded "skunky" beer. The aging process can be even trickier than beer selection, especially when we consider the maiden voyage in aging a new selection. Be sure to take notes and taste test every six months to perceive how your choice brew is aging. Consistency and flavor will offer clues to when it has reached its peak and is headed downhill. As outlined in Patrick Dawson's article "Past its prime? Vintage beer warning signs" in Beer and Brewing, watch for:
- Thinning body
- Brett-derived medicinal flavors
- Stale oxidation flavor
- Yeast autolysis
- Fading beery flavors (malts and hops)
- Acetaldehyde formation
Join the club. The intriguing world of vintage beer demands respect from beer enthusiasts everywhere. Aged brews are offering new diversities to even the most distinguished palate. Stash some of your favorite dark-brew bottles away and join the community today.