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Greg Engert‘s comprehensive post last week on aging beers got me in the mood to break into my own cellar, and with the frigid snap of 75-degree weather we’ve had this week, it was the perfect time for a comforting winter seasonal I’d been holding onto: a 2008 bottle of Avery Old Jubilation. If you did your required reading, you learned that high-octane beers are more suitable for aging because their alcohol acts as a preservative, and that dark beers have an extra coat of protection against oxidation. It stood to reason that Old Jubilation, an English-style strong ale weighing in at 8% abv — practically malt incarnate — would benefit from two years of maturity.
The wait paid off. The beer poured inky brown like cold-brewed coffee, and as it warmed to room temperature, each sip revealed a new hint of rye, whole wheat, or brown sugar. It had no hops to speak of, but burnt-toast flavors and a sour touch of pumpernickel clipped the sweetness off in the finish. Endlessly dark and smooth, it was like being lost in the “pipe and armchair” section of a Victorian-era gentlemen’s club.
The brilliance of this beer is that you can duplicate the experience for $1.50 and some patience. Old Jubilation, released every winter, costs no more than any other six-pack, and like most dark, strong beers, is a breeze to age. The “cellar” I kept it in was two closets in the two apartments I’ve lived in since 2008. No fancy fridges or anything; just two years of willpower.
More finicky beers, such as saisons and lower-alcohol stouts, should rest in a fridge at 50-65 F — for $30 I got a used wine fridge for this purpose. Another rule of thumb is that while corked beers age well lying down (keeping the cork wet and increasing the settled yeast’s contact with the beer), capped beers are better off standing up because the imperfect bottlecap seal will invariably let in some oxygen, and it’s best if that oxygen touches the airspace instead of the beer itself.
But getting started with beer aging is easy. It requires little knowledge and even less effort. Just pick up a strong, dark beer (Southern Tier‘s lineup is a good, inexpensive place to start), and put it somewhere cool-ish for a while. When your patience gives way, you’ll thank yourself for thinking ahead.