Beer, like any alcohol, can improve with age; it all depends on what type of beer you plan to drink. Some beers should never be aged and you should drink them ASAP, but others work better if you let them age and mellow out.
The purpose of aging a beer is to allow it to mellow out. The higher the alcohol content (ABV), the longer you will want to age the beer. A barley wine is often between 8 and 10 percent and this means a minimum term of 1 year maturation is often necessary. It will also depend on whether the beer was aged in barrels or not. The general rule of thumb is anything 5% and lower is best to be consumed right away. For simplicity’s sake, for roughly every increase in percent, you are looking at 4 months of aging from the date it was bottled. Do note that all breweries will sell their beers with the intention that it be consumed as soon as possible. If a beer has an best if consumed by date, keep that in mind.
Beers to not Age
As a rule, light beers such as Golden Ales, Lagers, and Pilsners should never be aged. If the one of these styles is an Imperial, you may consider aging it but the maturation period will be short. Light beers have the least amount of ingredients to water ratio and generally do not age well.
While ABV is an important factor for aging a beer, it is not the only factor. IPAs are a beer style that must be enjoyed right away. Hops are a very fragile ingredient and the fragrance of the hops will fade within months, if not days, of bottling. Many beer importers often have complaints from the most stringent of beer snobs stating that the imported IPA was not as good as the same beer when they tried it at the source. It can take a month or more if they ship bottles by ship and if it is not kept in cold storage it will definitely lose a lot of its hop scent and flavour. The beer will also start to lose its perceptive bitterness with time as the bittering agents break down within the beer itself.
Beers to Age
One of the most popular regular beer styles to age, although it is not necessary, is a stout or porter. These are beers that can really improve with age as they are made with a lot of malt and the various malts used will blend together better with age. These beers tend to be higher in alcohol so it tends to be better suited for aging. Like a fine wine, the alcohol in these beers tend to be a little forward when they are young but the malt will take over as time passes. Other notable candidates for aging are amber ales, brown ales, and red ales.
Aging a Beer
Now that you know that you can age a beer, the question is how to do so. Generally, the best way to age a beer is in a cool dark place, or your fridge. Keeping your beer around 12~15C (53~59F) is ideal for aging and definitely keep it out of sunlight. UV rays are terrible for beer and will greatly affect the flavour; the bottles are brown to help reduce the amount of light entering the beer. Keeping your beer in the fridge is no problem either, or if you have the funds, a wine fridge would be perfect. If you are a short on cash, keeping it in your closet is okay too, but try to find an area that has fewer changes in temperature as this will also affect the taste of the beer over time. In short, a basement closet that doesn’t get too hot is probably the best place if you don’t have a temperature controlled fridge.
Before we end, we must place a big disclaimer on everything. Beer is often stamped with a best before, or an expiry date. We cannot guarantee that a beer will be good after aging. Many breweries intend a beer to be consumed soon after purchase and they will hold a beer until it is ready for market. Some bottle caps may not survive for over a year of storage and bacteria may leak in with time. Any minor defects in the bottling process may create a slow leak that would be unnoticeable if consumed before the best before date, but if aging for a year or longer it may become pronounced. Some breweries add plastic stoppers or corks, similar to wine, or even add wax over the cap. We have never personally had a problem with aging beers but you never know.