How To Start A Beer Cellar, And Why

Below my basement stairs, cloaked in the mystique of this shitty old St. Louis Blues throw blanket, lies a treasure of such magic and wonder that it rivals Narnia’s wardrobe, the Indian in the cupboard, or any other super-awesome household secret.


Behold! A beer cellar!


Now, for those thinking that’s no beer cellar, I promise you it is and will prove it shortly. But let us first begin at the beginning, which is why have a beer cellar at all.

I Want My Beer Now. Why Should I Age it in a Cellar?

Like many of you, I was always told the best beer is a fresh beer, and mostly this is true. Take this ‘Enjoy By IPA’ for example.


Stone brewing is so adamant this beer—bottled on 1.10.16—be drunk fresh, they named the thing after its drink by date then planted ENJOY BY 2.14.16 right on the label. Why stress freshness? Because it’s a hoppy beer.

Hop compounds, just weeks after a beer is bottled, begin to deteriorate, which means so do the citrusy, bitter, and floral notes so prominent in delicious IPAs. So with any hop heavy beer, time is the enemy. That’s why IPAs should, with few exceptions, be consumed fresh, and to impede the inevitable loss of character, stored cool.

Now let’s look at a much different label.


A best AFTER date? The shit is this? Bottled on 12.8.15, why would any brewer recommend that an entire year lapse before consumption? Because the RIGHT beer, when rested gently in a beer cellar, ages beautifully like fine wine and J. Lo.

That harsh, boozy taste commonly found in young stouts transforms into savory chocolate and toffee. Complementary flavors, once barely discernible, come forward to create new and exciting profiles. And malt monsters, once imbalanced and one-dimensional, meld into a velvety bouquet of such complexity that I would drink that shit off the floor of a Wal Mart bathroom.

Of course, to attain these awesome results, you can’t just toss a 30 rack of Busch in a closet and keep the door shut for a year. First, you need the right beer.

How to Determine a Beer’s Cellaring Potential

Beer, when exposed to time, must withstand a litany of chemical reactions, one of which is oxidation.

Oxidation, an oxygen based reaction resulting in the change of flavor, is always occurring in beer. While certainly responsible for its share of unfavorable results—like the degradation of hop compounds—oxidation can create some absolutely delicious flavors when it reacts with the right beer. But if you age some feeble-bodied lager, oxidation will eat him alive. Only the strongest, fullest, biggest dick-swinging beers can survive the cellar. Here’s what it takes:

1. High alcohol content (8% ABV and up). The aging beer mustn’t be rushed. The chemical reactions responsible for flavor improvement take time. Alcohol, acting as a preservative, regulates the process, moving things along at just the right pace.

2. Lots of malt. Malt is the lifeblood of beer; it’s the processed grain that supplies the sugars which the yeast converts to alcohol. A beer with a big malt profile outlasts the yeast, resulting in residual sugars after fermentation. Another negative effect of oxidation is that it causes beer to thin. These leftover sugars battle oxidation during aging, allowing beer to sustain its full body.

3. Dark color. Before reacting with yeast to create alcohol, malt begins as raw grain. Grain only becomes malt after undergoing a process called malting (makes sense). Kilning, a step in the malting process, heats the grain and stops germination. When kilned at a high enough temperature, the grains actually become roasted. Roasted malt gives dark beer its dark color and usually is a sign of big, rich flavor (think dark roast coffee), and these flavors age well. Now, not all dark beers belong in the cellar, but a big roasted malt profile is usually a good sign.

The Very Best Beer Styles For Your Cellar

Imperial Stout


Imperial (extra strong) stouts go big on everything—roasted malt, sweetness and alcohol included. With so many delicious options, availability and variety make stout my favorite cellar beer.

Aging qualifications

  • Big roasted malt bill
  • Plenty of residual sugars
  • High ABV

Aging profile

  • Roasted malt creates sherry and caramel flavors
  • Dark chocolate notes develop
  • Boozy flavor mellows

Recommended aging period

  • 1-2 years

English barley wine


Patrick Dawson, in his phenomenal book Vintage Beer, calls English barley wine “the grandaddy of all vintage beers.” Intended to be cellared, these beers are brewed to maximize the benefits of aging.

Aging qualifications

  • Big on both malt and alcohol
  • Plenty of residual sugar
  • Built to age

Aging profile

  • Toffee and caramel flavors develop
  • Boozy flavor mellows
  • Fruit and candied notes emerge

Recommended aging period

  • 4-8 years

American barley wine


The American barley wine is generally hoppier than the English version but is also cheaper, easier to find, and still a great cellaring candidate.

Aging qualifications

  • Available and inexpensive
  • High ABV
  • Big malt profile

Aging profile

  • Melds over time, improving complexity
  • Boozy flavor mellows
  • Sherry notes develop

Recommended aging period

  • 1-3 years



If you have yet to experience the funk of a sour beer, you certainly should. With so many big, bold flavors, a stint in the cellar creates the perfect complexity.

Aging qualifications

  • High acidity acts as a preservative
  • High in residual sugars

Aging profile

  • Sweetness develops to complement sourness
  • Acidity mellows increasing complexity
  • Toffee and caramel flavors develop

Recommended aging period

  • 1-3 years

Start Today: 5 Beers You Can Buy Right Now

Many cellar-worthy beers are hard to find. The Abyss (the beer with the best after date) is offered in limited quantities. The bottle shop I frequent sold out within hours. Since this kind of exclusivity won’t do the startup beer cellarer any good, here now are 5 beers that I have purchased in the last 2 months and that would make an excellent foundation for any new cellar.

Note: I did my shopping in December and January in Minnesota, so availability may be subject to season and region. But like I said, I didn’t have to wait in line, or get on a list, or mug some poor sap in a parking lot to obtain a bottle.


How to Create a Beer Cellar

With your shopping done, it’s time to cellar your beer! You’ve probably realized from my blanketed abomination pictured above that starting a beer cellar requires very little. In all likelihood, the perfect cellar is somewhere in your house right now, waiting to be stocked with delicious beer. How exciting! All you need is an area with these 3 basic (but important) characteristics:

1. Cool and consistent temperature. Beer and heat don’t mix, and storing beer too cold, like in a refrigerator, impedes the aging process. Target an area close to the ideal cellar temperature of 55℉.

My cellar, in an unfinished basement, hovers between 54 degrees in the winter and 60 in the summer. This small change over six months is nothing to worry about, but do avoid subjecting beer to frequent and aggressive temperature fluctuation.

2. Away from sunlight, or bright fluorescent lighting, or any other lighting for that matter. The only thing beer hates more than heat is light—light being the culprit of skunked beer. While my basement stays cool, it gets a lot of sun, hence the ultra high-tech, UV-blocking Blues blanket.

3. Enough space to store beer upright. Wine is cellared horizontally to keep the cork moist and prevent oxygen from entering the bottle. Beer, regardless if it’s corked or capped, should be stored vertically so yeast sediments settle to the bottom of the bottle.

Now What? How to Get the Most From Your Beer Cellar

Serve at cellar temperature or slightly chilled. If served too cold, you’ll miss out on the big flavors and complexity.

Track your cellar. The bigger your cellar becomes the harder it is to track, and certainly you don’t want to forget about anything. I use google docs, so I can take inventory at a glance, and because I am a compulsive prude. Here now is example 1A.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 5.35.37 PM

Read labels. Brewers know best. Cellaring and serving recommendations are often right on the label.

Join a forum. Want a general idea as to how a certain beer will age? Let someone experiment for you. The aging forum on BeerAdvocate is a great place to start.

Try a vertical. Recently I participated in a four year vertical tasting (same beer, different ages) of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and then instagrammed photographic proof, informing all the world of my coolness. Anyway, a vertical is the best way to experience the true effect of aging on a beer. It just takes a few years to assemble.


Share with friends. Invite a buddy over. You can inundate him with details on the beer’s characteristics and how you acquired it. Then let him take a sip while you watch eagerly for his approval. Sooo, Greg, whaddya think? Good, right?

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