Craft beer is best consumed fresh, especially the world’s most iconic style, the India Pale Ale. But many new beer fans buy as much of a hyped stout as they can, telling themselves that cellaring it will make the brew improve over time. Though most beer will change over time, the sad truth is that doesn’t necessarily means it improves.
Aging beer will often soften big, bold flavors and tame boozy alcohol heat. And then there are the cellar dumpster fires, in which a tiny colony of microbes that may have replicated in the bottle can make the beer unintentionally sour or even explode. Most small breweries package beer with a moderate level of dissolved oxygen (DO), which can take on a wet cardboard flavor in a couple of years. Beers brewed with coffee, vanilla, fruit or other creative adjuncts will fade into a shadow of their former selves.
Upon seeing Valiant Brewing’s second-anniversary beer on a store shelf recently, a little curiosity got the best of me. It was a $13 gamble, but sometimes a 4-year-old beer can be awesome sauce.
Sadly, it gave a gentle hiss as I opened it, a sign that it had lost its carbonation. I sniffed the ullage for obvious flaws, then poured a sample into a Glencairn glass to let it open up. Ugh: Notes of candied pecans, medicine and wet cardboard, with a distinct leather-shoe-polish aroma. Gross.
Moral of the story: Check the bottle dates, avoid beer from closed breweries, and drink fresh!
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!