Craft beers are now getting the same nurturing that wines have been getting for years — literally.
Bars across America are now treating craft beers as they do wines, storing them in temperature-controlled cellars for a decade or more. The best beers for aging have to have higher alcohol levels, such as imperial stouts. (Don’t hold out for Budweiser.) Expect something along the lines of 8% or above in alcohol content. Lighter bodied and hoppy beers such as pale ales are best consumed right away.
“Much like wine, many of the styles benefit from a bit of aging,” says Leland Estes, general manager of Clinton Hall, a brew pub in lower Manhattan that has a cellar. “Certain styles high in alcohol and nearly opaque in color like the Russian Imperial Stout will cellar, mature and develop for over 100 years.”
The bottle they’re in also matters, says Christian Burns, owner of Cask Republic in New Haven, Conn. Beers in green bottles attract too many UV light rays.
“Aging beer is a relatively new concept in the United States over the last couple of decades, yet many breweries in Europe and the UK have been brewing beers prime for aging for much longer,” he says.
Some bottles of aged beers aren’t cheap. A 12 oz. bottle can cost $15 or even closer to $100.
Some examples of pubs with cellars:
Stanton Street Kitchen recently opened in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a beer cellar containing more than 100 hand-crafted beers in the basement. The bar has 24 rotating draft beers, at least half of which are from New York. The restaurant will also hold beer and food pairings in the cellar. “Not only are we going to bring in vintners for wine dinners but we’re also going to bring brew masters for beer dinners on this concept,” says Erik Blauberg, chef and co-owner. “I feel like there’s a lot of growth here.”
At Lake Clear Lodge in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, a beer and wine cellar is open for public tours. The beer cellar was made from pine trees struck by lightning on the property. Ernest Hohmeyer, an owner, calls the bar an “education center.” There are occasional tastings at a “beer corner” with a special table.
Cask Republic has a beer vintaging cellar filled with rare and special bottles and kegs. Among the available beers are imperial stouts, barley wines, barrel aged beer and more. Some beers have an alcoholic content of 10% or higher.
Barrelhouse Brewing Co., located on the edge of Paso Robles, Calif., serves beers from a cellar in its production facility. About 60 beers are being cellared in various wine barrels, rum barrels, whiskey barrels and more.
The Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco serves 15 vintage selections from its cellar. Beers, many of them local and Belgian, are paired with items on the food menu.
Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., says cellaring certain beers can make them better. But she warns that aging beer can go wrong as well. Sometimes, not storing the right beer in the right environment can dampen the flavor, darken its color or make it lose its carbonation. Bottled beers should be stored in less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and they should be kept upright, she says. “It’s a calculated risk. Look at it as bread or milk. It advances.”
But, she says, if cellared properly, “there might be some pleasant surprises in flavor and development.”