Once kegged or bottled, is it better to store a beer that gets better with age in a warm location or will it age the same sitting at serving temp?
this question has kind of a complicated answer that I can’t provide entirely. “Aging” really does a couple of things, so it depends on what you are after, but the shortest answer is ‘either should work’. I may not have this entirely right, so corrections welcome, but the basics are:
1.) Aging any alcohol allows for some oxidation of the alcohols. This is typically a horrible word when it comes to wine and beer. However, in bigger beers and wines, it allows for oxidative esterification, where ‘hotter’ alcohol flavors turn into dried fruit flavors, for example. This can be really important in barleywines, RIS’s, old ales, biere de gardes, etc. This typically happens best at cellar temps (50-60*F). A little oxidation goes a long way, however. I am a HUGE advocate of the O2-absorbing crowns after a 2-year experiment with a biere de garde I made.
2.) COLD storing alcohol (at serving temps), also known as lagering, allows for polyphenols, especially tannins to drop out. This is why the delicate flavors of a well-made lager are enhanced after the lagering period. It helps the beer to taste ‘cleaner’ without these big lumpy compounds getting in the way. I do think that some esterification happens at this temp as well, but I can’t prove it.
At either temp (IME), flavors will meld. Specific flavors you can pick out in a beer (or wine) will flow together better after some age.
Some people are really picky about drinking their lighter lagers and hop-forward beers ‘fresh’. However, if managed properly and oxidation is avoided, these can be enjoyed for a long time without much flavor loss.
In addition to what Pietro said, the warmer the aging the quicker it happens. Aging cold will retard the process. So, if you are aging a big beer and after tasting want it to slow down, chill the beer (note it will still age but slower).
Maybe as an example, git over to yer beer shop that has imported selections of big brews and purchase a couple to take home and sample. Just me, mind you, I can’t tell if the lagers are better or what, and the ales DO have the biggest difference. Seems to me an ales flavor gets smoother with time… Yes these are all sitting on a shelf, not refrigerated, so not a scientific result. Sneezles61