Storing and Serving Beer

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

In contrast to wines, with their higher alcohol and antioxidant contents, most beers do not improve with age, and are at their best fresh from the brewery. Oxidation causes the gradual development of a stale, cardboard aroma (from nonenal, a fatty-acid fragment) and harshness on the tongue (from hop phenolic substances). Browning reactions cause other undesirable changes. Top-fermented ales develop a solvent-like note. Staling is slowed at low temperatures, so when possible beer should be stored in the cold. Britain does make “laying-down beers,” and Belgium bières de garde, which start out fermentation with a very high soluble carbohydrate content and continue to ferment slowly in the bottle, the continuous production of carbon dioxide and other substances helping to prevent oxidation and staling. They end with alcohol levels of 8% or more, and improve for a year or two.