Is it okay to age the appropriate beers in the refrigerator?
Thanks so much
Wine is not the only drink that can be aged for maturation. Many beers benefit from extended aging. We're not talking about your average beer with a mere shelf life of 3-6 months, tops -- before quality begins to degrade. We're talking about beers that beg for maturation and strict storage like vintage beers, barleywines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, lambics, old ales and so on. Ideally, any type of beer that can be laid-down for a year or two, or even more, in order to build a slew of complexities and thus further its character in a positive way.
If you're interested in starting your own beer cellar it's actually pretty easy. First, you'll need to maintain enough patience and will-power to not drink them too early. This, beyond anything else, is the public enemy number one to your attempts. There's nothing worse than thinking about that special beer, just sitting there, as it whispers its sweet song to the pleasure portion of the brain, "Drink me".
Next, you'll need to buy at least two of each beer. One of the beers you'll want to drink immediately so you'll have a comparison in which to judge the aged one - taking some notes if you want. The other beer should be cellared for at least a year.
Now there's a lot of debate surrounding storing a beer upright vs. laying it down like a wine, specifically towards corked bottles. Some "experts" have faith in the old school wine way, that a corked beer should be kept on its side in order to keep the cork from drying out, while others believe that it doesn't really matter. In our opinion, ALL beer should be stored upright. Here's why we believe so, along with some other interesting facts about storage and cork:
So now you have a better understanding on how to store a beer. Next, where to store? First, beer should never come into contact with heat or light. Both will wreak havoc on your delicate stash of brews, and we're sure everyone has heard of the term "skunky". This is often a sign of a "light struck" beer.
We recommend that you store your beer in a cool area, away from direct light, sources of heat and in a constant temperature environment. Speaking of which, temperature is very important, and a major factor in the storing and serving aspects of beer. It also can become a real balancing act. Beer benefits from cool constant temperatures; usually around 50-55 degrees F is ideal for most beers, and most beer collectors. Higher temperatures and you'll risk shortening the lifespan of your beer, lower and you'll induce chill haze (cloudy). For you beer geeks out there, we'll break it down a bit further ...
There are 3 storage temperatures used to lay beer down for maturation and/or storage. Not only will you want store your beers at these specific temperatures, but also you'll want to serve them at the same. Your strong beers (like barleywines, tripels, dark ales) will be their happiest at room temperature (55-60F), most of your standard ales (like bitters, IPAs, dobbelbocks, lambics, stouts, etc) will be at cellar temperature (50-55F) and your lighter beers (like lagers, pilsners, wheat beers, milds, etc) will be at a refrigerated temperature (45-50F). Usually the higher alcohol, the higher temperature and lower alcohol, the lower temperature ... you get the point.
Obviously it'll be near impossible to regulate some of the above temperatures, unless you have a second fridge for beer or a cool basement. A compromise is to at least store those beers that are ideal at slightly higher temperature in a closet, away from light and environmental changes, or stay within the 50-55F range. As you get into beer cellaring, you'll probably see many variations of these recommended temperatures, but ours are good averages to go by.
Note on refrigerators: Long-term use is not recommended. Refrigerators are designed to keep food dry, so dehydration of cork can become an issue (laid-down or upright). Corked beers that you wish to age long-term should be kept in a cellar, where moderate humidity levels might be more appropriate.
Cool. Now that you have an idea as to what to cellar and how, what can you expect a year or more down the road when you've patiently waiting to crack open your aging beers? The answer = who knows? There are way too many variables that come to play, on top of the variations within the different styles. Some beers age very well, others don't. Some beers need only a year, while others can age for 25+ years. And, many breweries have no idea what their beer will taste like years down the road, while others can make pretty damn good predictions. It's all part of the fun.
Some final advice: if you cellared your beer too cold, then serve it immediately you'll get less carbonation, less aroma and less flavour. You'll also risk numbing your palate. Use the store temp = serve temp rule and you'll be fine.
Beers really don't age very much in the refrigerator. Normal fridge temperature is about 40F. Typical cellar temp is about 55F. Cellar temperature is fine for aging beers, if you can maintain that temperature. I age my beers at room temperature and they do very well. Beers can age just fine if you keep them at a pretty constant room temperature and out of sunlight.