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Beer Preservation 101


By Alexis

As some of you gain experience with beer tasting, you might want to start storing your favorite beers for later. You might also simply want to experiment with the evolution of tastes with beer aging. This article will provide some advice on how to proceed.

There are four rules to beer preservation: light, temperature, bottle position and picking the right beer.

Light
As beer is made with elements that are sensitive to light, it only makes sense to store your beers in a dark place. Neon lights and sun rays are deadly to beers. This is why most beers are in dark or brown bottles. The ones in green and clear bottles are generally that way for marketing reasons.

If you want to see the effects of light on a beer, I recommend you buy a green bottled Heineken and a can of Heineken. Put the green bottle next to a sunny window for a week. Then compare it to the canned version. You should notice a strong skunky odor.

Take special care not to put your bottles near a neon light as it will send more UV than a regular lamp.

Temperature
To preserve beer for a long period of time, you must be careful about temperature, especially high variations between hot and cold. If you can spend the extra bucks to have a temperature controlled fridge then I recommend you do. Otherwise, you can simply put the bottles in your basement and make sure that the ambient temperature is somewhere between 15C and 23C (59F and 74F).

Bottle Positioning
When it comes to storing beer, experts will often argue about the proper position that you should give your bottles in order to preserve them. There are basically 2 different opinions: those who think you should keep your bottles vertically and those who think they should be lying horizontally.

The prevailing reason for keeping them upright is to prevent the development of rust on the beer cap. This is a good idea for beers with a metal cap. However, if your bottle has a cork it is better to keep it horizontal as the cork will stay humid thus well sealed. This will prevent air from penetrating the bottle and will protect the noble liquid.

Some say that the beer will eventually start to taste bad because of the contact with the cork. I have found this is false, even in the case of very subtle beers.

So I think mixing vertical and horizontal positions is the wisest choice.

Picking the Right beer
Not all beers have what it takes to evolve. In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur has invented Pasteurization to prevent infections from developing in beers and milk. Since then, many brewers have decided to pasteurize and filter their beers so that they can prevent the beer from developing in a bad way. This also means that they are killing the yeast cells that allow the beer to evolve in a good way.

Most macros, therefore, are unsuited for a beer cellar. The fermentation will barely continue and the taste will mainly degrade.

Still, finding proper beers is not that complicated. Any beer that is bottled conditioned and/or fermented on lees is an absolute winner. Since this is not always explicitly written on the label, you can generally trust such styles as witbiers, doubles, triples, quadruples, abbey, trappists, weizens, bocks, doppelbocks, Belgian strong ales, gueuzes, lambics, bieres de garde, etc.

You will find that some beers stop evolving after a certain period of time. Witbiers and Weizens are generally best after 6 months (no longer). You will also notice that at a certain point, the beers will stop evolving. In other words, their alcohol level will keep on slowly rising but the taste will start degrading. This phenomenon is called maderisation and is totally normal.

I recommend you experiment here and share your results on Beertutor.com - we will often find little marvels.

Additional Tips
I recommend you write down the date where you stored your beers on the bottles. This will prove useful unless you have a very good memory. Having a thermometer to control the temperature is also a good idea. You can get one with a memory chip at your local electronic shop for cheap. It is also a good idea to place your bottles in a way where you can see the labels. This way you wont forget whats in your inventory.

Conclusion
Generally, beer is something that you will want to taste fresh. Most breweries release their beers once they are ready to drink. However, a lot of beers are built to evolve. With proper care and patience you might discover aging marvels. It is a very pleasant feeling to open an ordinary beer that has aged 5 years, only to discover it has evolved into a powerful strong ale with remarkable qualities.

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