Does Beer Really Get Better With Age?

Many brewers believe that home brewed beer gets better with age. Are you seeing the whole picture or is there more to the story?

Some people say that beer should be drunk fresh, others say that you should mature the beer weeks and even months before drinking it. Just what is going on  and why is there such a divergence of opinion. Like astro-physics where there always seems to be a missing piece of information in our understanding of the Universe perhaps we are missing some vital piece of information in the debate to good tasting craft beer.

In the last 10-20 years craft beer has become popular in this country and is following the explosion  that is occurring all around the world. The craft brewer and along with that the home brewer are breaking from tradition and redefining the meaning of beer. In doing so, one wonders if some are throwing out the baby with the bathwater in terms of procedures well held by the big brewers for most of last century.

For example, some craft brewers say that beer does not need to be consistent so long as it tastes good. They may point to the fact that wine has “vintages” and so does not require to taste the same year-on-year, and so the relatively high price tag reflects these vintages, or one offs. But beer is not a vintage because it is brewed all year round and traditionally the brewer makes sure it tastes the same every brew. Marketing has made sure of this because the premise that the consumer gets the same beer every time has made the multi-corporations profitable.

If you look at the MacDonald’s model which ensures you can find the same Big Mac no matter where you are in the world you begin to understand the importance of the premise of producing consistently good quality (albeit not so tasty). Quality should be defined as free from imperfections. It does not have to mean it is flavoursome, although this is becoming more the aim of the discerning consumer ; quality with flavour.

So in starting to diverge from the big companies’ “Quality” procedures the small brewer may inavertedly be producing beer of inferior quality, although it has plenty of taste when it is made. It may have some imperfections which some brewers are adamant that there is an improvement in this beer as it ages.

So what is happening here? Changes are occurring which lead to softening of the imperfections such as rotten egg odour, more mellow bitterness, or changes to other flavour taints.
The culprit causing this is air. Air contains oxygen and oxygen knows no barriers when it comes to staling (changing) beer flavours. If there is more air, the process of staling can occur more rapidly, even if it takes weeks to months.
So you see, oxygen changes all beer flavours including the good ones such as maltiness, great fruity flavours and hop aromas to name a few.

So what is the answer? Good brewing practises, that’s what!
Produce good beer free from imperfections but with great balanced flavours and learn to maintain freshness as long as possible. You then can produce flavoursome beers that can have a relatively long shelf life. Have you ever had a beer at a craft brewery only to be bitterly disappointed when buying that same beer in the bottle shop. Why is it so different?

Learn the right way to brew. Discover the 7 secrets to brewing good beer and maintaining the flavour profile. You can join like minded brewers find the answers to these and other questions in a course near you.