Beer & Brewing Magazine interviewed Adam Avery from Avery Brewing to gather his thoughts on how to store beer, what to expect from aged bottles, and the best ways to enjoy the experience of cellaring craft beer.

Maybe you’ve been inspired to start your own beer cellar so that at some point in the future you can open up some special beers and share them with friends. Adam Avery, president and brewmaster of Avery Brewing, has been cellaring and aging his own beers, as well as sampling extensive vintages of other brewers’ beers, for decades.

Choose the right temperature

For me personally, I like to keep my beer cold. I think that creates the best opportunity to oxidize in the “right” way and not in an accelerated way. All my beer (sour and non-sour) is stored in the 40°–45°F (4°–7°C) range. There is some fluctuation—never warmer than 45°F (7°C) and never colder than 38°F (3°C). I tell people to put it in the coolest spot in your house or buy an extra refrigerator and do it in a refrigerator.

Store upright

We don’t use corks, and you don’t have to lay the bottles down because of the kind of cap that’s on there.

Know what you can get, and what you can’t, from flavor

Unpasteurized sours an potentially continue to develop in the bottle. However, after a year or two in a barrel, I don’t know how much more active the bugs will be. Certainly, there’s an opportunity for them to still do something, but they’re typically living in these barrels between 60° and 72°F (16° and 22°C) where we’re promoting the growth of the organisms, and over that time the bugs do pretty much most of what they’ll do. If it’s a beer with fruit or barrel character in it, you can definitely see some maturation of flavors over time. But for me, a straight sour doesn’t change tremendously.

Don’t cellar a beer without drinking one now

I tell people, if you have the means and you love a beer and think it’s going to be good for cellaring, buy a case. Drink one bottle. Then put the case away. Every six months, drink a bottle. Do you like it better? Or is it the same? If it starts declining, drink it fast! Typically, I don’t think they come back—it’s hard to say that a beer that goes down a certain path is ever going to reverse a trend and become better, although it could. You might like something that happens to it. It’s so subjective. But you have to know where you start to appreciate where it goes.

Age doesn’t generally create new flavors, but it lets some flavors fade, allowing other flavors to become more prominent 

When you have a beer that’s right out of the gate, typically it has peaks and valleys. That’s what I like in my beers. Age tends to level out those peaks and valleys. Some beers, it works and some beers, it doesn’t.

Brett beers tend to “clean up” when aged in the bottle

In Brett beers, phenol and ester production survives a lot longer. On some of the barrel beers where you have Brett involved, lots of funky things can happen. It can definitely change. But usually we have them in the barrel long enough at the right temperature so most of that activity is done [before bottling]. I think that usually, Brett beers in a bottle “clean up” so you get less of that barnyard quality.

One of the most interesting verticals I’ve done was in Belgium—a fourteen-year vertical for Orval. It was amazing how well the hops stayed with the beer. I couldn’t believe how well-made the beer was and how it could last that long. I’m not exactly sure what made the difference—I think it was just the Belgian magic. They dose Brett into the bottle and re-prime with sugar so there’s enough for the Brett to work on. I think there’s something to be said for that—the longevity of the Brett in that bottle.

Big beers age best

The best chance of surviving and becoming better are super high-gravity bombs or super high-acidity beers.

It’s all subjective

The coolest part about cellaring beer is that you don’t know. There are chemical processes going on that could be figured out, but nobody is figuring them out because there’s very little money to be made in it. It all comes down to your palate, and that’s what makes it fun for me. One beer tastes like hell to somebody, and to another person it’s the best beer they ever drank. That’s what I love about beer in general or big beers, but also in cellaring. You can’t just say, “I’m going to age this beer for ten years and I know it will be great.” You don’t know. People ask me, “What should I do with this beer?” I don’t know what you should do with that beer. Do you like it right now? Do you think it’s the best beer you’ve ever had? If so, you should probably drink it right now. Otherwise, you’re just rolling the dice.

But once you start drinking a lot of beer, you can start looking at fresh beers and know that there are some flavors in there that you’ll like a year or two or three from now. Or maybe there are reasons you don’t love the beer, but you think a couple of years from now it might get better. Then you might cellar it.

I would go on record to say that with some age, even a year or less, there will be a melding of flavors. Some beers may have too many peaks and valleys [for your taste] at the start and once you get some consolidation of flavors you get a beer you enjoy more.

There can be better vintages than others. Again, there are no answers. There’s only a conversation. And that’s the best part about cellaring beers — you can sit down and talk about beer. There’s only one thing better than drinking beer and that’s talking with friends about beer while drinking it.

Source: Beer & Brewing Magazine

Author: Jamie Bogner