The Tastes of Time

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Vintage brews age beautifully in cellars, enhancing flavor profiles to take beers from good to great.

Old beer is bad for business; at least, that’s what most restaurateurs and bar managers have been taught. An IPA or a lager loses its legs when it languishes in kegs, so keeping customers happy means keeping the beer as fresh as possible.

While this obsession with freshness makes good sense for most styles of beer, there are a growing number of beer-program managers and craft beer enthusiasts who have discovered that certain beers age with the grace and sophistication of a fine wine.

For a restaurant that is built around a beer-centric concept, the addition of a cellaring program can give the establishment a gravitas that will keep beer geeks coming back.

“There are things that happen to a beer over time that make aging very worthwhile,” says Patrick Dawson, author of Vintage Beer: A Taster’s Guide to Brews That Improve over Time. “The alcohol presence is going to mellow, and new interesting flavors like sherry, port, toffee, caramel, raisins, and figs will emerge—things that you would never find in a fresh beer.”

Dawson says aging a beer properly allows these flavors to intertwine in a process he calls integration.

“If you’ve ever let a stew sit over night, the next day it tastes so much better because its flavors come together and mellow,” he says. “The same thing happens over time with beer.”

Informed Choices

The key to aging beers well starts with choosing the right brew. Dawson says maybe 1 percent of beers produced today will actually improve in the cellar.

When selecting a beer to cellar, there are three elements he considers—the alcohol content, which should be strong (usually 10 percent ABV or above); the sourness of the flavor; and a smoky profile—though the beer needs just one of these attributes to be considered for cellaring.


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