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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    I was talking with Doug Philips over the events just passed about this.

    He has some Anchor Bock beer (from the famed Anchor brewery in San Francisco) that seems to improve over time.

    This is a question I've had the chance to study both theoretically and practically through tasting over some 30 years.

    My conclusion is, that a pasteurised bottled or canned beer may in some cases improve over a period of some months if kept cold. A kind of "lagering" (continued mellowing through storage at cold temperatures) may continue during storage of the packages. True, this isn't supposed to happen with heat pasteurised beer since pasteurisation renders beer stable (it kills the residual yeasts and therefore precludes further slow fermentation or other reactions). Still, I think a few months sometimes knits together a beer, I have found this with some porters and other dark beers in particular. The Anchor Bock I last had from Doug was well-knitted with not a hint of oxidation and was very mellow. I have found that when I buy Pilsener Urquel at, say, one or two months from packaging (which is possible in Ontario), sometimes it seems better when kept another month or two in the fridge. I am not sure why this is, again I think maybe a kind of lagering continues despite the fact that this product is heat-pasteurised for export at any rate.

    However, some pasteurised bottled and canned beers, perhaps most, do not improve with such keeping in my experience. In fact, they get worse and in particular acquire either a damp paper oxidative smell or an unpleasant port-like fruitiness, or both. Even if they avoid this fate, over-age bottled beer at best will be a pale imitation of the fresh product. Hop flavor seems to lift off quickly or degrade, the malts and other cereals get dull, and the beer just has lost its life.

    The typical, filtered but non-pasteurised microbrewery beer in my experience rarely improves from keeping and in fact the opposite is almost always true. Damp paper oxidation is a constant risk with such products. A very strong beer will resist time better, but here too I find that the air gets in and degrades the tastes, usually. A beer at 10% abv kept cool for a year may not show much change, but at 5% abv, I wouldn't take the chance.

    Now, if this micro beer is bottled with its residual yeast or dosed with a different variety than it was fermented with, storage life improves and so does the palate, sometimes. The yeast in the bottle actually consumes some of the oxygen in the container and this delays the onset of oxidation. Also, a bit more alcohol can sometimes be produced through ongoing fermentation (although how many cidery/sour bottle-conditioned beers have I had where the ferment continued in an uncontrolled way and the beer became no good?).

    What is to be drawn from all this? A beer may improve with time but the odds are against it. Once packaged by the brewer (who has factored in the necessary aging to avoid "green" beer - i.e., it's already been aged when you get it), it's as complete, generally, as it's gonna get. No valid analogy in my view can be drawn with the long keeping of wines. Beer is best when it is purchased.

    However, like the case of certain whiskeys open for a time in the bottle or possible kept closed for decades, the passage of time does seem sometime to result in a better product. This kind of fortuitous improvement, a serendipity if you will, is one of the pleasing results of sampling whiskeys. It can happen with beer too but one shouldn't count on it.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 04-30-2008 at 09:16.

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    Gary,
    For once I agree with you.
    Most beers don't improve with age, especially the lighter adjunct laden varieties.
    I have experienced some miraculous older beers that keep improving with age. One such beer was a 1997 keg of Anchor Christmas Ale that was stored for 7 years in a walk-in and uncovered by the new owners of the site where it was stored.
    I will say that spices, hops, high alcohol and big body seem to be key components of beers that age well.
    Colonel Ed
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006

    Comissioned by Paul Patton, 1999

    "It ain't the booze that brings me in here, it's the solace it distills"

  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    What, you and I disagree?

    That Anchor Christmas sounds great!

    Gary

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    I agree, few beers improve with age. The oils and such in hops are very time sensitive. Hoppy is best fresh, but some of the maltier brews do age well. I think that as stuff floculates and settles sometimes it just works.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

    As long as you have good whiskey you're not "unemployed", you're "Funemployed!!!"

    I'm no Pappyophile

  5. #5
    Guru
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    Nov 2007
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    AZ
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    Specialiy house are working on beers so they can be aged like wines. A buddy of mine is working on some of those beers. There are a few that age very well, none of which are pale beers....

  6. #6
    Taster
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    Jan 2008
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    Long Island, NY
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    50

    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    The only beers I've heard of that improve with age are barley wines, and those should still be drunk within 5 or so years.

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    Colonel Ed
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006

    Comissioned by Paul Patton, 1999

    "It ain't the booze that brings me in here, it's the solace it distills"

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    I had heard about that discovery and tasting, and read other descriptions, Protz' are very good.

    I suspect the sherry/maderized tastes he describes are a rather prolonged oxidation, but hey, they aren't making any more beer 138 years old! Wish I could have been there.

    Gary

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    I've had beers up to the 10-12 yo range. They can be incredible. Gales' Prize Old Ale and J W Lees' are both fine examples of beers that are capable of aging.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

    As long as you have good whiskey you're not "unemployed", you're "Funemployed!!!"

    I'm no Pappyophile

  10. #10
    Virtuoso
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    Jan 2007
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    Louisville
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    Re: Can Time Improve Beer Once Packaged?

    I've got a bottle of the Sam Adams Triple Bock, and the last year they made it was 1996. Maybe I'll bring it next fall. It's a tiny bottle, though, so there won't be much to go around.

 

 

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