When I tell people that I age certain beers for sometimes several years I very often get confused looks. Beer is ready to be consumed once it leaves the brewery and the general rule of thumb is that you should drink it fresh, sometimes VERY fresh. This is correct for the vast majority of beers but there are certain instances where the flavors in the beer will become more complex as the beer ages under the right conditions. Rather than wasting my breathe telling you all the nuances of those conditions you can go here. I will instead spend my time telling a quick tale and then recommend a few reasonably priced beers to try aging yourself.
One of the single biggest turning points in my craft beer nerdism came during a trip to Seattle in November of 2012. I had met friends there who were living on the west coast at the time and we were running the Amica half marathon and planned for some additional time in the city after the race. I was taking the red-eye home on the Monday night so I spent my day putzing around looking for things to eat and catching a few sights along the way.
After I gorged myself on ramen and dumplings in the International District I walked to the other side of town when it was an appropriate enough of a time to start drinking a spot called The Wurst Place, which is a place I would highly recommend. It really was the perfect kind of beer-centric restaurant, a rotating list of beers and sausages along with some variety of fried spuds to soak up the alcohol and meat grease on the menu as well. I can't recall exactly what I drank that day, not due to intoxication it's just not the point of the story but I can assure you I drank some good beers.
Being that it was a Monday night, *cough* evening, *cough* afternoon, there were only a few patrons at the bar so I had ample opportunity to speak with the staff. I got to talking to one of the guys who said a few years back he started to stash away a few bottles every now and then to start his beer cellar. While it wasn't the first time I had heard about aging beer before it was the first time I had spoken to someone directly about their experience doing so. He warned that the toughest part of getting it started would be no pulling bottles to be consumed for the first year (he was right) but that it's definitely something worth giving a try.
Upon returning from Seattle I already had a single bottle of the 2012 Stone IRS so I went back to the bottle shop and bought three more. It's a good idea to buy multiple bottles so that you can enjoy the changing flavors at different stages of aging. At first I started to grab just about anything that wasn't an IPA and was above 8% abv but since then have come to learn which beers and styles I prefer with some age on then.
That all being said here are a few beers that I've stuck in my cellar over the last few years that have turned out for the better. I'm also keeping this to things that are relatively easy to get your hands on so I won't list the pair of Westvleteren XII I brought back from Bruges. Draft Magazine also does a regular feature where they have aged various beers and will review them at different stages which is a
Maudite - Unibroue: The biggest surprises I had during my time aging beers was how well the spices ales came out. Generally speaking a lot of these beers make you feel like your drinking a spice rack but with some time things can mellow out and mend together.
Yeti - Great Divide: I've said it before, Yeti is definitely one of the most underrated stouts out there and it's inexpensive compared what some 750s of a big stout can command. If you're just curious about aging beers get yourself a four pack or even two bottles of Yeti and forget about them for a few years, you won't be disappointed.
Stone Imperial Russian Stout: A bit of a repeat style but the Stone IRS has been the cornerstone of my cellar since I started it. I still have bottles from each realese from 2012 through 2015. It's a great beer regardless of aging but it's easy to find and short money. They also do an odd year variant every other year which is just another excuse to try something new.
Three Philosophers - Ommegang: Three Philosophers is probably the best American quad on the market and it tastes wonderful with some age on it. Most the sweeter malt flavors subside and the dark fruit notes shine through with some time. Ommegang has a few beers that would do well in the cellar but this is definitely the best.
A few general thoughts - Sours also age really well but make sure they have a high enough abv and are true wild sours, not kettle sours. Just about any Belgian style quad will do really well, as with most stouts but steer clear of stouts with coffee or chocolate, those flavors tend to do better fresh.
As for getting started, try a few less expensive beers so if they don't turn out great you've only sunk a few dollars into the investment. I've also turned annual gatherings with friends as a chance for everyone to bring a bottle so that we have beers to open the following years and even let a few stay for several more years. All in, it's just another great and fun way to enjoy craft beer.
Below are a few beers that friends brough to a gathering to put away in the cellar until we got back together the following year.