Successes in ageing beer

I've banged on before about keeping hoppy beers in the fridge and drinking them fresh to preserve the hop flavour and aroma in the beer. But not at all beers need to be drunk fresh, and in fact some benefit greatly from being laid down in a cool place to slowly mature and develop over months or years, like (cliche alert) a fine wine.

Fullers Vintage Ale is brewed specifically with ageing in mind and is probably the most famous and readily available example, but there are others out there which either specifically recommend ageing, or by their style certainly lend themselves to it. Beers with big flavour and high abvs such as Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, Strong English ales and even some big IPAs can all age wonderfully.

One beer which is certainly brewed to be aged is J W Lees Harvest Ale, a beer with a thickness and sweetness of body that has to be tasted to be believed and which seems to get better and better over time. The bottle I opened recently was brewed in 1999, meaning it has had 14 years in the bottle. Yet it was in fantastic condition and poured with a thick head that stuck around and a carbonation that was soft yet present, perfect for the style.

The combination of high alcohol content (11.5% abv) and intensely malty backbone, combined with that long slow ageing, give the aroma notes of brandy, musty wooden barrels, boiled brown sugar, caramel, and toffee.

The taste is thick, liquid bonfire toffee, molasses rum and caramelised banana alongside brandy soaked raisins and malt loaf. Rich, fruity, and delicious. A really huge mouthfeel and slick, chewy toffee finish has just a hint of spicy bitterness, that leans more towards fruitcake than herb or citrus.

It's a barley wine like no other I've tried and a truly surprising and impressive beer.

As well as this Harvest Ale, and the aforementioned Fullers Vintage Ale, one beer which I've found really improves with age is Stone Imperial Stout. Drank fresh it is a bit of a bruiser, with the super aggressive hopping giving the beer an intense bitterness which for me slightly gets in the way.

Give it a few years in the bottle though and that bitterness falls away from an upfront pine resin smack, back towards bitter dark chocolate - This combines much better with the body flavour of the beer and creates a more rounded coffee and chocolate flavour.

There's still enough bitterness to keep things in check but the beer is more rounded and balanced, and certainly has much more of what I'm looking for in an imperial stout.

So, where have you had success with ageing beers? Or equally, where has it not worked? I'd love to hear your thoughts.



  1. I had a '99 Fullers Vintage in May 2011. It was completely different to what I was expecting and is now amongst my favourite beer memories.

    As for other beers, last year I bought a selection of beers with the purpose of aging them. Not all are beers suited to aging, but I'm curious to see what happens to each of them.

  2. I had the 2003 fullers vintage last April for my birthday, not wanting to overstate anything but definately a contender for the best beer I've had!

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