Tins may be in, but bottles are better for ageing beer

The elusive Westvleteren 12 Belgian Trappist ale.
The elusive Westvleteren 12 Belgian Trappist ale. Photo: Shutterstock


I write about The Great Australian Tinnie Taste Test 2018 (Good Food, July 31) concerning the rise of canned beer. I believe Liam Pereira (general manager of Sydney Beer Week) is spot-on when he says cans are lighter to transport and ultraviolet light cannot spoil the beer. If you're travelling to a remote area or overseas, cans are the best way to transport beer safely.

Bottles, however, still have prime place.

Most bottle-conditioned real ales can be cellared like a fine wine, says Wayne Burtt.
Most bottle-conditioned real ales can be cellared like a fine wine, says Wayne Burtt. Photo: Shuttershock

Traditional brewers in countries such as Belgium, Germany, England and Scotland mostly bottle their packaged beer. Only factory brewers choose cans. In Belgium, bottle-conditioned real ales are the norm. These are naturally carbonated "live" beers that ferment in the bottle for greater complexity and flavour.

With a bottle-conditioned real ale, you can witness the progress of fermentation. Live ales mature slowly with yeast settling as a sediment (lees) and soft carbonation developing. Yeast scavenges and removes oxygen from the head space, obviating any need for counter-pressure bottle filling.

These beers will remain drinkable – and usually improve – for several years, developing a softer roundness, as opposed to factory-style beers (including craft-style beers), which need to be consumed quickly.

To open a Westvleteren 12 Belgian Trappist ale (often praised as one of the world's best beers) and gently pour it off its lees into a special glass is the first step in the romance of ale enjoyment before sniffing and sipping.

Most bottle-conditioned real ales can be cellared like a fine wine and trialling beer ageing at home can be fun. Coopers Sparkling Ale is particularly suited to the process, but by all means research your own favourites. Another excellent old standby is Worthington's White Shield from Britain, an exemplar of a traditional IPA worthy of ageing. It's still around but harder to find.

Brown glass is designed to resist ultraviolet light, but if you're going to age beer at home, avoid ales in green or colour-free bottles, which are not light-resistant. Buy a quantity of your favourite ale every three months for a year and date the bottle caps. Taste test the beers every few months to learn your aging preference.

People buy beer according to habit and fashion. The canned beer craze is a new world marketing phenomenon. It's not bad – it just isn't always the best way to store beer. A "tinnie" will do in the bush, but at home, it's bottle-conditioned real ale for me – and undoubtedly many other beer connoisseurs – every time.

Wayne Burtt is the co-owner and brewer of Dolphin Brewery in Daylesford, Victoria, specialising in British-style real ales, available at local farmers' markets.