A word about storing beer

Ideally, this room should be chilled and sunshine should be kept out.

Ideally, this room should be chilled and sunshine should be kept out.

Storing beer is a subject very close to me, as I am a big fan of stuffing my celler full of beers. Some would even say I suffer from cellarphobia. Therefore I've also taken the time to research how to store beers properly, but different beers demand different storage, and as much as I would love to be able to store at different temperatures, I simply don't have the capacity.

But that doesn't change the enjoyment I get from picking up a dusty barley wine from the cellar, realising it recently turned 10 and opening it only to experience the wonder age can do to some beers. Those who do the same know exactly what I'm talking about.

When storing beers, most people would agree that temperature is the most crucial aspect when you intend to let it age. I will, however, try to give a broader list of things to consider. 

  • Temperature
  • Orientation
  • Humidity
  • Bottle Conditioned
  • Light Exposure
  • Style

Most of what is known about aging and storing beers comes from the studies that have been conducted with red wine. Usually they're stored at temperatures below their fermentation, and the same goes for wine. Ales, which are usually better suited for aging, are fermented at 18 - 23°C so if your beer storage is between that, you're home safe. Go higher and you'll end up with oxidised beers; go lower and you'll slow down the aging process significantly, or even stop it completely. In other words, don't go too low (which would be around 13°C). 

Theres another aspect when it comes to aging and temperature that shouldn't go unnoticed. It should be steady. If there's too much variation during a day or a year, some processes will be started but not finished and could also lead to off flavours.

When talking about orientation, it's easy to tell that storing bottles upright is the way to go. Most craft beer has sediment in the bottle from either yeast or hops, and since you don't want any of that in your beer you store them upright. If poured correctly (carefully) all sediment will remain in the bottle and you'll end up with a nicer looking beer, free from eventual unwanted flavors.

But why are some beers stored horizontally then? Cork is the short answer. The longer answer involves humidity. If the humidity is too low, it could dry out corks and precious beer could evaporate from the bottle. Although that process takes time, exposed corks should be stored horizontally if the humidity is below 55%, to prevent the corks from drying out. Another concern arrives here, as horizontal storing will increase the beers contact with the remaining oxygen in the bottle, because of a larger surface area. A whole new dilemma for beer hoarders arises!

BUT!

if the beer is bottle conditioned, a greater surface area will not have an impact on oxidization as secondary fermentation will counteract the process. It is equally believed that a horizontal aging will improve secondary fermentation because the sediment will too have a greater surface.

Another impact is light exposure and the greatest ally in this case is the color of the bottle. UV-rays will break down hop character to skunky flavors and the greatest way to prevent this is up to the brewery. Clear, green and blue bottles will give no resistance to the dangerous UV-rays, but brown ones will do just that. Direct sunlight or fancy ambient light is the enemy. Store your beer in a dark place! Let's take that one more time for the metal heads. Darkness is your friend!

Lastly, a beer's style also has something to say about storage. Strong beers like Barley Wines and Stouts along with sours should sit at 10-13°C , but Pale Ales and IPAs should be a bit colder at 8°C. Beers lighter than that, usually lagers, should be taken directly from the fridge at 5°C, still stored upright to avoid sediment.

Lastly, learn for yourself. A beer should be stored (long-term) as close to fermentation temperature as possible and you might want your beer at a different temperature than your favourite beer friend. You might even disagree about how long your stouts should be stored; maybe you'll find them peaking at different times.

Experimentation is your friend!