Does beer get better as it ages? It’s a trick question! See, I didn’t say ‘with aging.’ And I didn’t say “older beer is better.” I said “as it ages.” Many people think that beer gets better with age. This one, then, is a myth within a myth.
Bottled beer, once you purchase it, doesn’t usually get better with age.
However, the term aging, when applied to alcoholic beverages, usually means a deliberate process. When you think about “aging wine” you are thinking of something that is done on purpose to enhance the flavor of the wine. And, as you know, some wines are aged for many, many years. But the same myth applies to both wine and beer.
It is a myth that all wine is meant to be aged for years and years and that all wine will be better the longer it is aged. Many wines, and the vast majority of the wine we buy today, is meant to be consumed very soon after it is bottled, and will not age well in the bottle at all. It will become stale and undrinkable. Any aging is done before the wine leaves the winery and this may be a short period, as well. Do not think you can buy a $15 dollar bottle of wine and age it for ten years to end up with a $200 bottle of wine.
Newly brewed beer put into a bottle is green beer. It is not quite ready to drink. So, most bottled beers need a relatively short period of bottle aging, or a maturation period. This may be one to two weeks, and sometimes up to a few months. Anything longer than this, and the beer starts to go stale.
Some few beers may hold up well up to a year.
Here is where the myth within the myth comes in, however. People sometimes think that beer gets better with age, and this is generally not true. Yet, other people think that aging is never appropriate for beer and no beer can benefit from it. This is a myth! There do exist beers that can improve their flavor when appropriately aged. Like fine wine, their flavors become more complex and…more awesome.
Beers That Improve with Age
An example of a beers that improve with age are Belgium’s Lambic beers, something I enjoy often and would highly recommend you try. These beers are aged in oak barrels for up to two years. After this, certain bottled styles of Lambic can continue aging in the bottle for many years. Aging always has to do with oxidation. But while oxidation is responsible for off-flavors and bad aromas in stale beer or wine, it is also responsible for the complex compounds that lead to the flavor of wine and beer that benefits from it.
Another example of aged beers are barrel-aged beers. However, they do not necessarily age well in the bottle.
Most beer is at its highest quality and peak of flavor the moment it leaves the brewery. After this, if it is not exposed to excessive heat, light, or oxygen it will have a useful shelf-life of a few months.
Light is Beer’s Worst Enemy
As revealed in this article about rewarming beer, light is by far the worst enemy of beer. Many beer enthusiasts hate popular beers like Corona or Heineken. Well, Corona is bottled in clear bottles and Heineken in light-green ones. Both let through UV rays, responsible for that skunky taste. This doesn’t mean that either is guaranteed to be bad, but the beer has no protection! This why many large brands, and most small craft beers use dark-colored light-opaque brown glass bottles. Some have also turned to high-sided beer cartons. You also may be noticing that the beer world is experiencing a can revolution.
Bottles used to be the uber-coolest but many craft beer breweries are turning to cans once again, and some use cans exclusively. Today’s cans have many advantages over bottles, not the least of which being the lighter weight and cheaper shipping costs. Cans let in absolutely no light and they have an inner-liner that never allows the beer to come into contact with the metal of the can. Cans may be a superior vessel for beer! So, if in your beer-craftiness you have been avoiding cans, you may want to rethink the situation.