The fact is that most beer is best when it is consumed young. Like bread, lighter color and weight brews are best fresh. However, there is a range of higher gravity beers that can actually improve in complexity thanks to a year or two (or even more) of storage under the right conditions.
Barleywines, Scotch ales, imperial stouts, Belgian ales and stronger seasonal beers are perfect for storing, allowing you to compare them over time. The alcohol content, level of hops and color all play a role in making these beers candidates for aging.
How do you get started? First of all you should buy at least three bottles of each beer you plan to cellar. The first bottle should be consumed at the time of purchase and you should take a couple of notes to store with the other two bottles. That way you can compare the beer from year to year to see how the passage of time has influenced the brew.
Next you need a place to store your vintage beers. Two key points to keep in mind: the storage space should be cool—somewhere between 45-50 degrees is perfect—and it should be dark. Heat and sunlight are killers of great beer flavor. All of this argues for a dorm-size refrigerator. You can adjust the temperature, but watch out if some of the beers have corks because they can dry out under normal refrigerator conditions. Some wine storage units offer humidity control, but avoid glass fronts that let in light. You might try a corner of your basement, but be sure it is away from the furnace or water heater.
Cellaring beer can be fun, even if it is disappointing on occasion when a great beer “flips” from one year to the next. The key is having a bit of patience and the willingness to let time takes it course. It’s neat to open up several vintage “winter warmers” over a holiday meal and compare them with family and friends. Why should the wine snobs have all the fun?