The Vintage Page

"What ?!? You are ageing beers in your cellar ? But you can't do this with beer !"
That is about the standard reaction I get while talking about the fact I have more beer than wine bottles in my cellar. A normal reaction indeed in a country without beer culture.
No, of course, not every beer is born to be cellared. In fact, 99.9% of all beers should be drunk fresh. And even with those that can be aged, you get no guarantee that the result will be good. Even a Château Latour can turn into vinegar if you are unlucky.
Ales basically are better suited for cellaring than lagers (except for doppelbocks and eisbocks). Pasteurized and filtered beers are not suitable for laying down. Bottle-conditioned beers, that means beers bottled with live yeast, will continue to ferment, changing their character. The yeast will use the residual sugars and the beer will become dryer (and also lose a bit of its body). The yeast will continue to influence the beer profile even after running out of sugar. So, bottle-conditioned beers are very good candidates for laying down. But this condition is not imperative !

Storing conditions

Unlike wine, you should store your beer bottles standing up (except, maybe, those having a cork) much like you would store a pitcher of juice or other beverage container on refrigerator shelves or in a cooler to keep from spilling. Though I must confess 90% of my bottles are laid on their side for practical reasons.
The problem with corked beers is that you are very likely to find corky, musty aroma and flavour if you stored those beers on their side. Some people find that it contributes to the beer's complexity but I am not among those (or only for some rare exceptions). If you are like me, you should store your corked beers standing up.
Stored on their side, bottles with caps can get metal flavours if the caps rust.
You have to keep your beers in a cool (12 to 16 degrees) place, away from direct light. Higher temperatures will make your beer age too fast or even kill the yeast in the bottles.
The effects of light are not desirable as it will make your beer skunky.
Avoid sudden temperature changes.
Unlike with wine, humidity is not necessarily a factor.

Beer's evolution and its dangers

Oxidation: the exposure of beer to air can have bad effects on its flavour, giving it a characteristic taste reminding wet paperboard. Of course, if this will have desastrous consequences on delicate, low-alcohol beers, it will be relatively harmless on full-bodied, high-alcohol beers. In any case a bigger bottle will be less altered by this process than a small bottle of the same beer. However there will almost always be some oxidation. This creates toffeeish, Madeira-like flavours.
The dominant hop bitterness will mellow and your beer will be more balanced.
The alcohol taste will fade into the background. The flavours will round, become more subtle.
The malt flavours will come forward as the hop bitterness will go lessen.
High-alcohol, generously hopped, smoked and bottle-conditioned beers are not as susceptible to the negative effects of ageing.
If "re-fermentation" does not proceed properly, the beer may be excessively malty and syrupy or soupy.
Dead yeast can give "meaty" flavours.
If a beer is not properly sealed, it may simply taste sour.

Tips and tricks

Ensure that your bottles have been stored in good condition before you purchase them.
Avoid beers in green or white bottles because those colours do not prevent the light from acting on the hop and changing the beer.
Try to cellar young beers; it may be exciting to buy an old bottle of Samichlaus found in a beer store shelf but you don't know how this beer has been handled during all those years.
Lay down more than one beer from a vintage; that way you can observe how the beer develops during the years.

Beer styles suitable for ageing

The following values are of course only indications and can vary from beer to beer within the same style.
ABT/Quadrupel ~ 10 years with positive evolution.
Barley Wine ~ 10 years with positive evolution.
Berliner Weisse ~ 10 years without much evolution.
Tripel > 5 years with positive evolution.
Scotch Ale > 5 years with positive evolution.
Dubbel ~ 3 years with positive evolution.
Abbaye Blonde and Brune ~ 3 years with positive evolution.
India Pale Ale ~ 3 years with positive evolution.
Bière de Garde ~ 3 years with positive evolution.
Flanders red / Oud Bruin~ 3 years without much evolution
Porter / Stout ~ 3 years without much evolution
Gueuze ? impossible to foresee

some recommended brands

more informations on aging beers

So You've Got a Cellar...Now What? (article by Joris Pattyn)

my reviews

31 to 40 years old:

Schultheiss Groter Jan Berliner Weisse, ? vintage (Groterjan was bought by Schultheiss in 1961 and closed in 1978), sampled 10/2009 courtesy of DerDoppelbock - clear and pale golden colour with a poor head retention; lactic nose with fair notes of meat; light-bodied and with acidic notes; low and subtle carbonation; light acidic and slightly fruity finish - very drinkable 14.0

31 years old:

Courage Imperial Stout, 10%, 1975 vintage, sampled 10/2006 huge thanks to Laurent Mousson for sharing this one with me ! dark black coloured; little shy foam; deeply complex aroma of cheese, licorice, dust and cocoa, light notes of boiled meat; slightly oily with an unregular malt profile; late and solid bitterness soon met by a strong saltiness; very long and very salty aftertaste with more cocoa and licorice - this beer has suffered the assault of time but has resisted honorably - a touching experience 14.8

30 years old:

Arkell Royal Wedding Ale, 1981 vintage, sampled 04/2011 shared by Philipp Sigg and Thomas Schneider during the Solothurner Biertage 2011; a beer brewed for the wedding of prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. - the best of the 4 beers sampled on the same evening (see below); an impressive persistent foam and the one with the less Madeira-like flavours; it looks also like this one was the strongest in alcohol. Still enjoyable after 30 years. N/A
Brains Prince's Ale, 1981 vintage, sampled 04/2011 shared by Philipp Sigg and Thomas Schneider during the Solothurner Biertage 2011 - a beer brewed for the wedding of prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. N/A
George Gale Royal Wedding Ale, 1981 vintage, sampled 04/2011 shared by Philipp Sigg and Thomas Schneider during the Solothurner Biertage 2011 - a beer brewed for the wedding of prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. N/A
Shepherd Neame Royal Wedding Ale, 1981 vintage, sampled 04/2011 shared by Philipp Sigg and Thomas Schneider during the Solothurner Biertage 2011 - a beer brewed for the wedding of prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. N/A
Courage Ceremonial Ale, 1981 vintage, sampled 06/2011 shared by Philipp Sigg and Thomas Schneider - a beer brewed for the wedding of prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. - hazy amber colour; no foam; caramel and madeira in the nose, notes of marzipan; medium-bodied and with a moderate carbonation, decent bitterness; long malty, caramelish and portwine-like finish - impressive after all those years! 14.0

26 years old:

Hürlimann Samichlaus, 14%: 1991 vintage, sampled 04/2017. from my cellar. Very complex and superb! N/A

20 to 25 years old:

Horndean Prize Old Ale: eighties vintage, sampled 10/2009. courtesy of Laurent Mousson - aroma of bretts with red fruits, no carbonation; notes of cork, fairly bitter; alcohol and red fruits in a slightly burning finish. N/A

22 years old:

Courage Imperial Stout, 10%, 1985 vintage, sampled 12/2007 thanks to Laurent Mousson (again) for this gem - black coloured without foam; heavy aroma of pralines, chocolate, butter and licorice; madaireized; very thick and oily, low carbonation and a strong malt body; dry and very bitter with a touch of sourness; long chocolaty finish - a wonderful beer which marvelously survived those 22 years 16.8
Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale, 12%: 1987 vintage, sampled 10/2009. courtesy of Laurent Mousson - aroma of bretts and cork, acidic and sticky, some meat, almost no carbonation; fruity malty finish with lingering acidic notes - a beautiful beer N/A

21 years old:

Hürlimann Samichlaus, 14%: 1996 vintage, sampled 04/2017. from my cellar. Beautiful, as always. N/A

20 years old:

Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale, 12%: 1989 vintage, sampled 10/2009. courtesy of Laurent Mousson - nut and caramel, mint, fiarly madereized and full-bodied, solidly bitter, long malty finish N/A

17 years old:

Courage Imperial Stout, 10%, 1992 vintage, sampled 10/2009 courtesy of Pascal Sauser - salty nose with some coffee; medium to full-bodied, a touch of caramel in a salty finish, roasted, a bit sticky. N/A

16 years old:

Courage Imperial Stout, 10%, 1993 vintage, sampled 10/2009 courtesy of Laurent Mousson - meaty and salty nose, acidic, chocolatey and salty finish, corrosive. N/A

15 years old:

Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale, 12%: 1991 vintage, sampled 10/2006. courtesy of Laurent Mousson - hazy brown colour and absolutely no foam; very complex nose of cocoa, herbs, menthol and biscuits; very thick and sticky, some sweetness with a powerful bitterness; strong alcohol kick in the finish along with more cocoa notes and a never ending bitterness - deeply impressive ! 16.8
Hürlimann Samichlaus, 14%: 1994 vintage, sampled 04/2009. courtesy of Richie Leder 14.8

13 years old:

Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale, 12%: 1994 vintage, sampled 01/2007. pours a dark unappetizing brown cloudy colour with absolutely no foam; aroma of cocoa and plums, vinous and Portwine-like; almost no carbonation, solid malt body, oily, syrupy palate, some sweetness before a late and robust bitterness; long fruity and malty finish with notes of chocolate and warming alcohol 13.2
Van Steenberge Bornem Dubbel: 1996 vintage, sampled 10/2009. clear ruby-brown colour with no head retention; aroma of sweet malt and caramel with notes of Portwine; sweet and slightly sour, medium-bodied, short malty and caramelish aftertaste; quite oxidyzed 11.6

12 years old:

Courage Imperial Stout, 10%, 1992 vintage, sampled 04/2004 dark black colour with absolutely no foam, very strong and complex aroma of nut, black chocolate, cocoa, alcohol and plum, very thick and oily, solid bitterness, the finish is long and chocolaty - thx to fiulijn for this beautiful brew 17.2
Boon Oude Geuze, 6.5%: 1997 vintage, sampled 10/2009 hay and fruity; more mellow than younger samples; quite creamy mouthfeel, some acidic notes and fruity finish N/A
Liefmans Goudenband, 8%: 1999 vintage, sampled 09/2011. Still pretty nice with lot of character. Survived the 12 years without much problem. N/A
Abbaye des Rocs Brune, 9%: 1999 vintage, sampled 09/2011. Has turned pretty sweet and carameleized but basically not bad. N/A

11 years old:

Hürlimann Caesarus Imperator Heller Bock, 12,5%, 1997 vintage, sampled 04/2008 thanks to jjpm74 for the trade; no indications of vintage so I suppose it was the last one (1997) - pours a fully cloudy reddish-brown colour without head; hugely complex aroma showing notes of portwine, brownies and nuts; very sweet, full-bodied with a low carbonation, slightly oily, very long malty and nutty finish with notes of cognac and a big warming alcohol kick - the worthy little brother of Samichlaus 16.4
la Houblonnière Saint Bruno: 1998 vintage, sampled 10/2009 aroma of meat and tar; madereized; salty and acidic in the mouth with lingering notes of meat in the finish N/A
Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale, 12%: 1998 vintage, sampled 10/2009. aroma of bretts, alcohol, caramel and mint; full-bodied, very sweet with some bitterness; very long estery and malty finish with notes of pineapple - still powerful after all those years N/A
St Bernardus 12, 10%: 2000 vintage, sampled 09/2011. Well, I'm not the biggest fan of this beer and 11 years did not make it any good. N/A
Dubuisson Bush Blonde, 10.5%: 2000 vintage, sampled 09/2011. Lot of notes of caramel and madeira. Unconvincing N/A
Moortgat Duvel, 8.5%: 2000 vintage, sampled 09/2011. Still pretty decent but definitely better fresh. N/A


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