The winter holidays are the season for rare and prized beers, some of which only come around every 12 months or even less frequently. As such, there’s a natural temptation to squirrel away some of these precious bottles to drink later, just as certain wines are stashed in a cellar for aging.
But beer is not wine, and while some ales and lagers can be cellared, local experts say most are best when they’re fresh. The key is knowing if your favorite beers can be put away for a few months or even longer and how to protect them.
Probably no Asheville-made beer is more coveted than Highland Brewing Co.’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale (5.9 percent ABV). This year’s release was quickly snapped up, and brewery President Leah Wong Ashburn knows that some bottles will be put away until 2018 — but she doesn’t recommend it.
“Keeping it through the holidays is perfect,” Ashburn says. “Cellaring it for a year is not the best thing.” She adds that Highland beers — Cold Mountain included — remain fresh for at least 90 days after being packaged, then their flavors start fading. At 8 percent ABV, Imperial Cold Mountain could last longer, as could Black Watch Double Chocolate Milk Stout (also 8 percent ABV).
To protect the beer, Ashburn stresses the importance of keeping it away from light and in a cool place — either in a refrigerator or basement — with the bottles standing straight up rather than on their side. Kegged beer, however, will last closer to six months. “The keg is such a great package, and [distributors] are keeping it stored well,” she says.
Brusin’ Ales bottle shop has a good selection of beers that may successfully be cellared. “There are a few categories are that are better candidates for aging,” says store employee Jason Monaghan, pointing to higher-gravity beers in the 10-12 percent ABV range, barrel-aged brews and sours. He says Bruisin’ stores its beers between 40 and 50 degrees with the bottles standing up. As for how long a beer can be cellared, Monaghan says it varies from beer to beer, but some can be put aside for two to 10 years, or possibly longer.
Wedge Brewing Co. head brewer Carl Mellisas likewise recommends keeping cellared beer in the 50-degree range. “If you are above 65 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be better to stick the beer in the refrigerator,” he says. “But in a refrigerator, below 42 [degrees], the living yeast in a beer won’t be able to continually condition the beers and cool off the alcohols.”
Among the beers built for cellaring is Ten Fidy Imperial Stout, made by Oskar Blues Brewery of Brevard. At 10.5 percent ABV, it can be cellared for one to three years in a basement, says marketing director Aaron Baker.
Also good for cellaring is New Belgium Brewing Co.’s La Folie Brown Sour Ale. It’s aged on French Oak between one and three years before it’s released, according to company spokesman Michael Craft. “So, in a sense, it gets cellared before we bottle it,” he says.