Let There (Not) Be Light
We all talk about seeing the light, but your beer shouldn’t—not until it reaches your drinking glass. Light-struck beers have a distinctly unpleasant skunky (sometimes called catty) smell. Beer drinkers sometimes confuse this with the sulfurous aromas common in many European lagers, but they are very different. Researchers have discovered that the smell of light-stuck beer comes from the degradation of hop oils in beer, so you might think that beers that are low in hops, like mass-produced light lagers, wouldn’t be affected. They are, of course, but not as dramatically as more flavorful craft beers.
Brown or dark-colored glass bottles afford some barrier against the evils of daylight, but they won’t cancel out the effects of strong light—whether from incandescent or fluorescent sources. (Incandescent light also produces significant heat to be wary of.) A dark cellar provides more protection. Even then, it pays to be careful. I have one low-wattage fluorescent light in my own beer cellar, mostly to keep me from tripping over the cases scattered on the floor, but I keep it shaded at all times.
Beer Wasn’t Born to Move
In our increasingly mobile society, we often lose tract of the fact that some things are better disturbed as little as possible. Once your have stored your beer in your cellar, it shouldn’t have to be moved until the moment you drink it.
Why does movement hurt beer? Just as with sparkling wine, vibration can damage the flavor of your beer by causing it to over-carbonate. Bottle-conditioned beers, in particular, are subject to damage when suspensions of dead yeast cells and their autolyzed aromas and flavors are not allowed to settle out on the bottom of the bottle.
When it comes time to serve these beers, by the way, they need to be carefully decanted. I remember once at a Belgian beer dinner that ignorant servers poured a wonderful 5-year-old ale from small bottles, constantly tipping the bottles to fill each glass. The beer looked (and tasted) very different, depending upon how much yeast residue you received in your glass.