Did you know that how you handle your bought beers can affect the taste, fragrance and quality of the beer almost as much as the brewing process itself? You can buy a gorgeous beer, but if you keep it in your living room for a while before drinking, while turning the heat on and off over the days and nights, it won’t be as beautiful when you drink it.
Beer is a very fragile solution. Sure, some of the really big breweries chemically alter parts of their beer these days so even the most careless beer drinker might get the flavour the brewer aimed at, but those tricks are expensive and their effects limited, so it’s better to teach yourself some beer treatment habits.
The worst thing you can do is keep your beer in a room that changes temperature often. It’s even better (not good) to keep your beer in a warm room than a room with a lot of temperature changes. Best though is to keep your beer dark and in a cool even temperatured room. It doesn’t have to be a refrigerator, but try to stick under 15 degrees Celcius. Even then: ALL beers age and oxidise and decrease in quality over time. The cold and continuous temperature just slow that process.
Wait. All beers? What about barrel aging? And those awesome new flavours when you save a dark, high alcohol beer over a long time before consuming?
Your beer will eventually age and ‘oxidise’ over time. when your beer ages it loses carbon dioxide and gains a flatter taste and a flavour like wet cardboard or leather (when you let it get VERY old, it evolves into more of a honey like flavour, but that’s for another time). This will happen to all beers. The barrel aged and saved beers have been ‘oxidised’ as well, but some new flavours that might develop might be worth it and sometimes these new flavours are even desired and intended by the brewer. All beers will get the cardboard flavour, but those other, more desired flavours are often able to mask that.
Your beer basically doesn’t like oxygen either. Proper bottling and canning will keep oxygen out, and forestall premature oxidising (mind you I’m talking about two different things here, oxidising and oxygen, although oxygen can be one of the oxidising agents). The carbon dioxide also keeps oxygen out. And when you poor it in your glass, you develop a foam head, this foam head keeps the carbon dioxide retained for some time (it goes into the foam and takes stuff with it, another story) and the oxygen out. Another way to eat away the excessive oxygen is fermentation on the bottle.
However, especially dark malts, develop new, complex, and often interesting flavours that mask the oxidation flavours. Flavours like sherry and madeira. Less sourness for a sour beer (which for a lot of people translates in more sweetness, although that’s not necessarily the case). And you need the help of oxygen to ‘push’ the barrel flavours (the wood, but also the whisky or other liquor that was in it before) of barrel aged beers in the beer (which is why barrel aging with woodchips doesn’t work the same). So you lose some and you gain some, and sometimes the gain is more interesting than the loss.
When your beer is heavy on the hops, the hop aromas might become musty or will disappear all together. This happens pretty quickly, that’s why you should drink beers like IPA’s, that gain a lot of their desired flavours from the hops, as fresh as possible (preferably within sixth months). For some beerstyles old ingredients are used on purpose, for example old hops in lambic beers. Luckily those beers are so complex in flavours and aromas they don’t smell like old hops. Have you ever smelled old hops? It smells like cheese. Mind you I’m talking about two different hops aging effects here: In IPA’s fresh hops are used, but can become musty in fragrance pretty quickly, but not cheesy. Cheesy happens when the hops themselves become old befóre they are used in any beer (or other uses…)
Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is that hops in beer don’t like light. When they are affected by light they get a skunky (weed, cat piss) aroma. Just like the ageing, that’s sometimes a desired aroma, look (smell) at Corona for example, but for most beers it’s not. Some bigger breweries have chemically altered their hops so they aren’t light sensitive anymore, but in most beers the hops will react to light. That’s why you have to keep your beer in the dark. That’s also one of the reasons I prefer cans over bottles, because even the darkest bottles let the UV radiation/light through, be it in a lesser degree than white glass. Now I know people claim that beer in cans gains a metallic flavour, but cans these days are made of materials that don’t give that metallic flavour to solutions. That’s partly why you see a trend that more and more brewers use cans.
Then there is the lying down versus standing up discussion. Lying down is better for real cork, it keeps it moist. But most beers don’t have a (real) cork and I like my beers standing up. A lot of beers aren’t pasteurized and/or have secondary fermentation in the bottle (bottle conditioned), so they have yeast in the bottle. In a standing bottle the yeast can fall to the bottom and you can choose whether you want to serve your beer with or without yeast. In the case of Weizen there’s even a whole ritual around the yeast on how to serve a Weizen beer (Spoiler: with the yeast).
Try the next experiment: Buy 4 bottles of a lager in a brown bottle (brown, because then it’s probaby not from a brewer that chemically altered the hops). Place one in your living room, one in your basement, one outside, one on a heater. Compare the beers after a week and tell me your results 🙂