If you have room inside your kegerator, aging beers can be a great way to pull out some of the finer flavor aspects of your beer. Many high gravity beers are quite enhanced by aging them for one to six months, and barley wines are often aged for years in cellars.
Use a sized sheet of plexi-glass and a few empty larger bottles to create a bottle aging area in the empty space of your kegerator.
By aging the beers in your kegerator, as opposed to a cabinet or shelf, the beers will taste better because there will be a minimum of temperature changes. Aging beer can be done in almost any kegerator, but there are certain types of kegerators that will be far more accommodating to the process, due to storage space, mostly.
As Dogfish Head Brewery QC manager Rebecca Newman says, "It's like your stereo system… If you like it really tinny and not very bass-y, you adjust that. Think of beer coming out of the brewery as really tinny, really sharp, really crisp. Over time, those bass notes - those bigger, fuller, sweeter, malty flavors - come up, and a lot of the sharpness is diminished. So, what do you like: bass or treble?"
If you are a fan of heavy beers, you should consider the advantages of aging some of your favorite high octane brews to draw out those low, earthy tones.
Beers ideal for aging are those that have an alcohol level of at least eight percent. Some types of beer that age well are: barley wines, imperial stouts, fortified ales, lambics, and other strong Belgian beers. Aging these certain beers, especially if you are a home brewer brewing these kinds of beers, can put your beers into a whole new category of refinement. In order to take full advantage of the benefits of aging your beers, one should be familiar with the various temperature ranges that are most beneficial for bringing out the best qualities of aging.
In general, beers age best at the temperature that they should be served at. This can vary, of course, depending on the type of beer. Higher gravity beers are best served and aged at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Tripels, bocks, barley wines, and other dark or high alcohol ales are all served well by aging at this temperature. Pale ales, stouts, IPAs, and ESB style ales should be served and aged a little colder than that, around 48-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Lighter beers, like lagers, wheat ales, and Pilsners should come in at the lowest temps, 35-50 degrees, depending on the carbonation level and tenacity of the beer. Whatever the temperature, be aware that beer always suffers from temperature change in the aging process. If you can keep the beer cold constantly, you are going to get the best results from aging your beer. [Temperature Controllers]
Aging beer is best done in a bottle or keg standing upright. Often, beer fans get the idea that beer should be aged like wine, lying on its side. This can produce an unsightly yeast ring inside the bottle, however. This storage technique also creates a problem of exposing more of the surface area of the beer to air, and therefore, oxidization.
I find that re-used and capped 22 oz. bottles are excellent for aging small quantities of my home brew. I have a used cork as well, but I wouldn't recommend it for anything less powerful than barley wine. In general, if you are using corks, you really should make sure not to lay the bottles down on their sides. Also, kegerators, like refrigerators, can be a very dry environment and can dry out the corks, causing shrinkage.
Experimentation is at the heart of all good beers. Recipes are conceived of, planned out, and adjusted for years using imagination, determination, and guile to produce the finest of craft beers. It is wise to have a number of the same batch beers in bottles in order to be able to impartially judge the amount of refinement that a certain beer undergoes as it ages for differing lengths of time. This will help you to judge the very best tasting time frame for aging next round.
As stated by the representative of Dogfish Head Brewery, aging can really help to dull out the brighter, bitter, sour, and citrus flavors in beer. This is why seasonal ales like pumpkin beer and Christmas beer are usually not the best choice for aging, as many of them rely upon those flavors for their unique character. On the other hand, if you prefer that those flavors be mild or barely noticeable, you might try aging a wheat ale or lambic to see just how those flavor profiles change over time. You might like a six month aged lambic better than a fresh one.
Highly hopped beers tend to lose a lot of that hop flavor over time. I would not recommend aging an IPA or ESB for more than two months. I always give my IPA 2 weeks and then it's ready to serve. After six months is when a lot of the flavor profile starts to fall off the detection grid, especially floral or dank hop characters, which are often the major flavor trends of Pale ales, ESBs, Pilsners, and IPAs. For this reason, I extend that same advice to those beers as well.
The amount of space available in most fully functional kegerators is not very much. After whatever kinds of kegs you have in there and on tap, you might be able to store some bottles, but it takes a full on fridge to kegerator conversion to be able to age kegs or a large amount of bottles. Keep in mind that if you start running out of storage room in your kegerator, and you need to store the bottles at room temperature, keep the bottles out of the sun in a cool, dry place. Cellars or basements can be great locations for storing and aging beer, but try to avoid hot attic rooms.
With the amount of refinement going into beer these days, you can be sure that there will be more and more varieties of beer that will be developed for aging.
|Christian Lavender is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server, homebrewer and founder of Kegerators.com and HomeBrewing.com in Austin, TX.|