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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Basement Beer

Cool breezes temper the searing summer sun as September approaches in Connecticut.  If there's one thing we look forward to for autumn (other than smoked turkey, or reading Nick's alluring alliterations), it's enjoying our richer, darker, heartwarming beers we've kept in the cellar or basement.  That's right, beer can age like wine can.

Well, not exactly like wine can.  Most beers will only go stale if you put them downstairs with your collection of cabs and chiantis.  But, know a few basic rules, and you might have some luck setting beer aside and storing it for the winter.  Like a beer squirrel.

First off, most strong, dark Belgian beers will be great for putting away.  Not all, most.  Same with imperial stouts, barleywines, old ales, and sour ales.  Generally, if it's either a wild yeast-fermented beer or a high alcohol beer (in the 9% or more range), you can give it a shot.  The darker the malt, generally the better it will age as well.

Why age beer?  Well, as strong beer ages, sweeter, toffee-like malt flavors blossom and hop bitterness diminishes.  If you were to try to age an India pale ale, you'd end up with a pretty disappointing beer, as IPAs are cherished for their punchy, sharp hop flavors.  However, some imperial stouts and barleywines are brewed with an abundance of hops, probably more than really complements their flavor profile, in the expectation that beer nerds like us at Sizzle Grove will put them in our basement for a year or two.

Other beers age unexpectedly.  Sour ales may become more vinous over time, or less.  Tartness might diminish a bit, sweetness might open up a bit... it's hard to say with wild yeast.  It's wild.  And some beers will age poorly, even if you think they should age well.  No one quite knows the science behind it, it's just fun to try.

Some beers we recommend aging include Unibroue's Trois Pistoles, a strong, dark, Belgian-style ale with a peppery, anise-like flavor when fresh, that smooths out and develops molasses flavor as it ages after about 2 years.  Remember our review of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout?  Buy yourself a case of that when you can, and put it away for one year.  We think it's the perfect amount of time to open up its chocolatey sweetness.  And if you can afford to buy English old ales like Thomas Hardy's.... put that in your cellar until your 4th grade daughter graduates from college.

Cellared beer should be stored upright, in a cool environment (non-fluctuating cellar temp, around 60 degrees is best).  The area should also be just slightly humid, in case you have corked bottles.  We recommend labeling when you bought them, or keep an eye on the brewed date so you know how long you let them go for.

How do you pair aged beer with barbecue?  Sizzle Grove thinks dessert is the best bet.  Slice up some pineapple, rub it with a bit of molasses, brown sugar, a tiny dash of salt, and red pepper flakes (yep, that's right!).  Grill or smoke until tender, top with fresh whipped cream or ice cream, and open up some well-earned basement beer.

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