Aged beer? The very concept of deliberately aging a beer contradicts everything we hear and see in beer ads. The majority of beer producers stress that fresh beer is the best beer to encourage people to buy their products.
Indeed, with the majority of beer styles, fresher is better. But there are many beer styles which will improve with age, due to a number of factors.
Higher alcohol content is one of these factors. Alcohol is a preservative, so stronger beers will stand the test of time much more gracefully than beers with less alcohol.
Bottle conditioning - the practice of leaving live yeast in the beer when it is bottled - also makes beers good candidates for aging, since the yeast continues to develop the beers over time.
If you have the taste for aged beer, your destination has to be Belgium.
Belgium has a long tradition of producing bottle conditioned beers, like lambic and gueuze, strong ales, and other beers that will improve with age if cellared properly. And, since breweries dotted all around the country produce world class beers with aging potential, beer lovers can often rely on local beer cafes to have great beers for them. They don't need to spend time and effort cellaring beer, as it is done for them. With so many specialty beer cafes all around Belgium, there are always a lot of very good choices to be had.
While many cafes in Belgium do have a cellar with aged beers available, this fact is not always advertised. At such places, inquiring and showing an interest in beer beyond that of a typical visitor or tourist will help convince the owner to let you in on what aged treasures may reside in the cellar.