Forget Beer Aging


Another year of a certain commonly-hoarded beer release has passed, and what has followed it is as inevitable as the sun rising on your stale-ass beer: a riot of discussions across social media and beer forums about how long to wait to drink such-and-such a beer.

This one isn't hard: drink it now.

I'm not saying I've never had beers that have gotten better with some age.  It happens.  I don't mind a vertical tasting of some beers, even years after they've gone into the bottle.  I'm just saying that I've enjoyed those at about the same rate as I've enjoyed Disney films: sure, some are really good, but mostly I feel like I just wasted my time and money.

Look, nearly all beer is at or near its best right after it hits its appropriate level of carbonation.  From that point forward you're losing ground to oxidation, a shifting flavor profile as things physically fall out of your beer, contamination, light, and more.  Hoarding it like some kind of alcohol-dependent squirrel with too much shelf space on its hands probably isn't helping you.

Don't think about it: drink it now.

"But what about..."  Yes, properly-stored beer can be "flavor stable" for a long time.  Yes, some attributes of beer can make it more likely to age well.  Yes, certain characteristics mellow out or develop with age.  From where, though, does this optimism arise?

You're trusting that the folks at the brewery, and the distributor, and the retailer/vendor are all taking great care of this beer?  Arrhenius' Rule cuts both ways - yes, storing cold will dramatically slow chemical reactions/aging, but a few days in hot temps can create months worth of staling effects.  "But it's a dark, high-ABV, bottle-conditioned IPA!," you say?  OK.  So maybe - just maybe - thanks to these attributes it will be generally as-drinkable in four months, but why wait?  Is it going to get better?  Maybe.  But how do you know which bottle will improve and which will just get slowly less impressive, like the work of Aaron Sorkin?

Don't trust: drink it now.

And besides, you don't need to do your own aging.  This is why you have beer nerd friends that still buy into the "I'm going to build an awesome cellar..." mentality.  Use them.  Keep your ears pricked up to catch wind of when they're popping open those six bottles of Brooklyn Black Ops, 2009-2015 (thanks, Adam!).  I'm not saying to be a moocher or a deadbeat: bring them something in exchange.  But don't be the beer equivalent of the person who dry-ages their own steaks.  In both cases, the risk isn't worth the reward.

Maybe I just don't get the allure.  I'd trade a bottle of vintage Old Ale for a six-pack of fresh Pilsner any day of the week.  And sure, there are exceptions to any rule - I'll sit on bottles of Cantillon until Jean tells me they're good.  Mostly, though, I want to buy a beer and drink it as close as possible to that moment, sometime in the past, when a brewer tasted it in the tank or barrel and thought, "Yup, I want to sell that NOW."  

Forget beer aging: drink it now.

Keep it simple.


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