Does Beer Age Like Wine?

If you’ve ever bought a pack of Coors Light, PBR, Bud Light or a similar beer, then you might have noticed the little, colored strip that is printed on the bottom of the can.

As the urban legend goes, those colors indicate how fresh your brew is – depending on the color, your beer may have gone bad with time.

However, that’s an urban legend; the colors are used so printers and register what colors are running low and need to be replaced so the printing doesn’t get screwed up on thousands of cans.

But the idea behind it stems from a very real question: does beer age like wine, or does it get worse by the day?

To answer this question, I talked to people who make beer and researched it on the internet.

Your Beer Ages, Just Not Always Well

To anyone who believes that beer does not age well, consider this: every single beer on every shelf is aging constantly. The second that beer leaves its final container, it’s aging. While it’s sitting in the keg, cask, tank, can or bottle, that bad boy is getting older.

As it ages, things change. Some beer reps and brewers have told me that the ABV on their IPAs is always higher than what’s printed. Beer can continue to ferment even after it’s bottled, and that can mean more booziness.

For a lot of beers, things start to go bad with age. If you’ve had a specific beer a few times then suddenly realize that a bottle or pour doesn’t taste as good as usual, that beer is probably at the end of its life. Yes, you should pour it down the sink, in the gutter or down your throat – hey, it’s not like it’s poisonous.

But we can’t use broad strokes to paint beer (never mix beer and paint)! There are plenty of beers that age well – you just have to know which kinds.

Which Beers Do You Cellar?

If you stumble upon a fine, fine beer – we’re talking KBS ballpark, here – you can easily get more out of your beer by cellaring it for a while.

However, you need to cellar your beer right. Beer is like mold – it loves cool, dark place. And much like mold, these places make the beer stronger and more potent.

And also, just like mold, you’ll want to get it out of your cellar before it’s too late.

Beer will go bad. Over time, things change, and the beer can start to get the wrong type of funky, the corks can erode, the wax can contaminate through the small cracks, and, worst of all, the beer can age to the point that it starts getting bad. The same thing can happen to wine, though.

But cellaring beer for a set amount of time can yield a boost in flavor, ABV and more. The subtle notes in beers tend to come out the longer they sit, and a lot of people find that this makes the beer taste better.

Of course, this comes down to personal preference and there will always be people who think beer gets worse as you age it.

Going back to the mold thing, different beers and molds grow and age at different rates. Never expect an IPA to age like a bourbon barrel aged stout. That stout can last years and that IPA will start getting gross much sooner than that. In fact, don’t even try to age IPAs, please. It doesn’t work.

If you take anything away from this, dear reader, it’s that EVERYTHING changes with time – including beer. This can mean better or worse, and knowing exactly when any type of beer is best is practically impossible since we’re sort of trailblazing a new era of craft brew.

The best approach? Try things out for yourself and see what works! Try cellaring some nicer bottles and, if you hate it the result, never cellar them again.

Thomas Short
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