Contrary to popular belief, not all beer is best when fresh. And that led Establishment Brewing’s co-founders Mike Foniok and Dave Ronnenberg to hatch a plan.
“We’ve always envisioned (Establishment) as the best place to come and drink the best mixed fermentation beers,” says Foniok.
“Mixed fermentation” means beers fermented by a mixture of yeast and bacteria, and Foniok is referring to the beers fermented and aged in the oak barrels stored throughout the brewery. Microbes are added to each beer to ensure a good mixture, but because oak is porous, microbes also reside within the barrels themselves, which makes the beer aging in them excitingly unpredictable. Even after the beer is bottled, the microbes will continue to work on the beer (which is not filtered or pasteurized) — though lacking oxygen, they produce different flavours than if the beer continued to age in the barrels.
With that in mind, since opening its doors, Establishment (4407 1 St. S.E.; establishmentbrewing.ca) has purposefully held cases of each of their bottled beers back to build a cellar of aging, mixed-fermentation beers.
The menu of taproom-only beers describes each beer and states how long it spent in oak barrels and how long it’s spent in the cellar after bottling. Beers on the menu may come and go as Establishment curates the list to ensure there is always an interesting mix of different styles of beer of different ages.
The beers are generally $25/bottle, but they’re 750ml (the same size as a standard wine bottle), so they’re perfect for sharing or celebrating a special occasion.
While Establishment focusses on its own beers and therefore only has beers that are a few years old, Calgary’s craft-beer stalwart, Bottlescrew Bill’s (140 10 Ave. S.W.; bottlescrewbill.com) has quietly been offering cellared beers for decades. They currently have hundreds of aged beers, the oldest of which date back to 2009. And while Establishment’s beer cellar is restricted to beers from barrels, Bottlescrew Bill’s has vintage and unique beers of all kinds, from barley wines to imperial stouts.
If you want to start your own beer cellar, here are some tips. Hoppy beers generally do not age well, so stick with malty and sour beers; imperial stouts, barley wines and mixed-fermentation beers are good choices. Mixed fermentation and beers fermented with Brettanomyces are also good choices. Because they allow trace amounts of oxygen ingress, beers in bottles, especially those with corks, are better choices than beers in cans.
Once you’ve chosen your beers, place them in a cool, dark place away from temperature swings and vibrations. A basement room or closet away from vents is a good choice. Putting bottles into old (but clean) socks or surrounding them with fabric or foam will help maintain constant temperature.
To reduce the temptation to drink the beers early, label them with when you want to drink them. And if you cellar multiple bottles of the same beer, you can drink one each year, monitoring how the beer changes over time.
But always remember: beer should be fun, so enjoy the experiment!