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Past Its Prime? Vintage Beer Warning Signs

What are some of the ways a beer can go wrong? What signs signal the point of no return? Here are seven points to consider when you’re evaluating a vintage beer.

Patrick Dawson May 25, 2017 - 8 min read

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Chances are if you’re reading this, you have a beer cellar. Aging beer is all the rage right now as people are not only exposed to many more styles, but also as they learn exactly what their palates prefer. But, as eager cellarers start to wade in, it’s all too easy to fall into various traps. And one of the most common is “older is better.” It’s important to remember that eventually, all cellarable beers will succumb to the tide of time. Okay, an exception might be made for vintage greats such as Thomas Hardy’s and Cantillon, which have yet to hit the wall, but there’s nothing worse than drinking a beer that’s sat patiently for years, only to discover that it’s a shell of its former self.

It’s easy enough to recognize a beer that’s well past its prime with that first sip. Even non-beer drinkers can tell “old” when they taste it. However, having the ability to detect the indicative aged aspects before a beer heads downhill can pay dividends by enabling you to drink whatever stock you might have left in time and helping you learn where a beer’s peak is for the next time. Consider the following warning signs.

Thinning Body

One of the worst things that can happen to an aging beer is the thinning of its body. Over time, oxidation will reduce a beer’s sugars. As these sugars are oxidized, the by-products adhere to the malt proteins, eventually causing them to fall out of suspension, resulting in thinning. Many cellar-worthy styles (e.g., barleywines, imperial stouts) rely on a malty body to let their maturing flavors shine, and once this base is gone, the beer can become dull and muted.

Brett-Derived Medicinal Flavors

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