Cellaring Lambics Horizontally vs. Vertically

Discussion in 'Cellaring / Aging Beer' started by pmoney, Jul 26, 2012.

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  1. pmoney

    pmoney Crusader (709) Apr 15, 2011 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Okay, so we haven't had a thread on this in a little while. I searched the forums for this topic and read quite a bit, but what I'm really looking for is someone who has had experience aging lambic beers for the long-term.

    Here's a summation of what I've read:

    Pro-Vertical Argument:
    Beer has less exposure to oxygen therefore there is less oxidation
    Cantillon has had leakage issues
    Russian River and Lost Abbey recommend keeping bottles upright
    If you age horizontally, with temp fluctuation, the cork will "breathe" the beer out and potentially leak

    Pro-Horizontal Argument:
    Yeast will settle to side of bottle which is ideal for pouring
    Yeast on the side of the bottle exposes it to more of the beer. Bugs can do their job better/faster.
    Keeps the cork moist
    3F and Cantillon have been laying their bottles down for years
    Saves space if you buy a traditional wine fridge

    Then of course there's the issue of corked vs. C&C bottles and lambics vs. American sours.

    Any advice from BAs with experience aging lambics is apppreciated!
  2. afrokaze

    afrokaze Zealot (580) Jun 12, 2009 Arizona
    Industry Beer Trader

    No real experience to speak from since I only started a real cellar this year, but I have my corked sours laying on their side just in case. If it's good enough for Cantillon after all these years, then it's good enough for me!
  3. woosterbill

    woosterbill Poo-Bah (2,616) Apr 6, 2009 Kentucky
    Beer Trader

    hooliganlife and hmmmmmm like this.
  4. chanokokoro

    chanokokoro Champion (835) Jan 31, 2012 Illinois

    I use a hybrid approach and follow the recommendation from each brewery. I store my Cantillon, 3F, Hanssens, and other Belgian lambics horizontally. I store all my American Wild Ales upright whether capped or C&C as the breweries recommend vertical cellaring.

    I've only been cellaring lambics longer term for 1 1/2-2 years, but I have never had a leaking issue with any of the Belgian lambics that I store horizontally, including Cantillon.
    vkv822 and albertq17 like this.
  5. tendermorsel

    tendermorsel Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2006 Massachusetts

    Straight form the source:

    Lambic should be aged on it's side. 24 hours before drinking the bottle should be put upright for the yeast to settle at the bottom..

    I don't actually do that... My cellar doesn't have wine racks but boxes so I make do. That is how you are supposed to do it.
  6. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    I store my lambic upright because it's easier. Since there's 0 actual evidence either way and I'm a lazy bastard, that's good enough for me.

    According to whom? Literally no one in Belgium did that, including 3F, Cantillon, Kulminator, and De Heeren. I never once saw anyone do that, and I drank a lot of lambic.
  7. Beerandraiderfan

    Beerandraiderfan Initiate (0) Apr 14, 2009 Nevada

    I tend to consume them vertically.

    But then end up sometimes cellaring them short term on my insides horizontally overnight, but then I wake up and dispose of the contents vertically, sometimes you have to stand a little further back though to dispose them first thing in the morning, right guys?

    But be careful how much you consume, as leakage failures can occur when you go and cellar unintentionally horizontal.
    sliverX, hiphopj5, NarcoSolo and 2 others like this.
  8. tendermorsel

    tendermorsel Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2006 Massachusetts

    Jan Van Roy told me that is the proper way to store Lambic. Also I know some lambic experts stateside and over there that agreed.

    It's not particularly practical in a commercial setting. "Hi Joos. I would like a Helena tomorrow. Could you put one vertical for me?" A customer would have to call 24 hours in advance to have a bottle:slight_smile: That is part of why I don't do it either. But I stand behind what I have been told. It's an ideal but not particularly pratical way to do it.
  9. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    One thing that's so frustrating about this to me is no one ever defines their terms. "Proper" in what sense? Does it help the taste? Doubtful. Lambic that's been stored on its side for years has the yeast firmly caked to the side, it'll stay there even after everything's been poured. A day upright won't help that, it'll just make there be more in the body. And since the bottles are served in baskets, you're just putting back on the side immediately after turning it upright? What sense does that make? All you'd be doing is agitating the yeast a little bit. If you want to do that just turn it over a few times.

    Not to mention this is directly in contrast with what I was told several times, which is "for the love of god don't disturb the sediment". Many places even had corkscrews tilted at the right angle so you could get corks out without putting the bottle upright! The pains people went to in order to keep bottles on their sides were staggering.

    I think either you're misremembering this or JVR was screwing with you, because that makes absolutely no sense.

    It's perfectly practical at Cantillon, where they serve only a few styles. And I'm quite sure that's not what they were doing.

    Anyway, your posts are a great example of why I think no one has actually done any kind of methodical investigation and is blowing hot air.
    fdm_2k and kaips1 like this.
  10. tendermorsel

    tendermorsel Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2006 Massachusetts

    Hey.. no misremembering by me. When JVR speaks tender listens. Hey I am just passing on what I was told. I am not an expert on this stuff. For christs sake I am not even doing what he suggested. I am not blowing hot air. Not everyone has to have the same experience or feeling about this sort of stuff Stupac. You don't have to be right all the time. I am not a scientist. Just a beer drinker who happens to love lambic. So I for one could care less about methodology.
    CityofBals, albertq17 and tronto like this.
  11. kscaldef

    kscaldef Initiate (0) Jun 11, 2010 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    I feel like the lambic producers in Belgium have been doing this for a long time and are pretty clear in their opinion that you should keep the bottles on their sides. I'm not sure why we shouldn't believe that they have experience with trying it both ways and decided this is better. I don't think that just because no one with a degree in brewing science has published a paper on it there hasn't been any "methodical investigation".
    digita7693 likes this.
  12. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    People can do lots of things for a very long time and still be wrong about what they're doing.

    And what bothers me isn't "I do it this way because we've always done it this way" but "YOU SHOULD DO IT THIS WAY". When someone's making a strong claim it should be backed up with something. There's absolutely no actual evidence that I have ever seen that says doing it one way produces different results. Hell, I've never even seen someone say "in my experience it tasted better", because people don't even bother doing comparisons. Has anyone anywhere ever done any kind of meaningful comparison between the two? I've never seen it, and without that they're just guessing.

    I didn't say you were blowing hot air, that he was (or anyone who makes a strong claim without any kind of evidence). I am a scientist, and seeing this all the time bothers me. I'm not discounting experience, but there's a difference between "I've done the comparisons and preferred these results", which I've literally never seen in any of the dozens of discussions where this has come up, and "Do it this way because I say so", which is stupid. If you do it that way because you like it or because that's the way your family has always done it, then fine, great. But don't pretend that it's better because of that. (Again, this is general "you", not "you, Tendermorsel" who clearly hasn't made any of these claims.)

    I know this is a weird topic to go all "YOU'RE NOT SCIENCING RIGHT" on, but it comes up so much and as far as I can tell the only real answer is "a lot of people say a lot of different things but as far as anyone can tell just do whatever and it'll be fine." Does it really matter if someone thinks "oh man well I have to go out and build some racks to store them on their side"? No, in fact that would be cool because building stuff is fun. But it bothers me to see claims that aren't justified circulating. (Political discussions give me aneurysms.)
    commis likes this.
  13. Homebrew42

    Homebrew42 Initiate (0) Dec 20, 2006 New York

    I've never seen any evidence to suggest that they've "tried it both ways", more like "this is the way we do it because this is the way we've always done it".
  14. pmoney

    pmoney Crusader (709) Apr 15, 2011 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Bingo. This is the exact reason I started this thread. So many people have strong opinions one way or the other and that's not what I'm interested in. That's why I laid-out the opinions that I had already seen everyone make for both sides.

    What I'm interested in is actual proof that one method is better than the other. Maybe this is a futile effort, but it's nothing I'm going to find without asking. I'd like to hear from someone who has a lot of experience and can say "I've tried both methods but this method is better and here is why". Again, maybe I'm in search of something (or someone) that I'm not going to find, but that's what I'm looking for.
  15. pmoney

    pmoney Crusader (709) Apr 15, 2011 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    That's all I've seen too. And the thing is, both sides firmly believe their way is the right way, but only because that's the way they've always done it.

    Hell, maybe there isn't a difference at all.
  16. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    That's my bet, or whatever difference exists is swamped by bottle variation.

    I have a basement now, so maybe I'll do this. I'll try to get a case of 3F gueuze (I've wanted to do that anyway) then store some vertically and some on a wine rack. Then every 6 months or so do a blind tasting where people compare. It'll take years to really get results, but that's better than nothing.

    If anyone is interested and has space, they should try it too.
  17. tendermorsel

    tendermorsel Initiate (0) Oct 22, 2006 Massachusetts

    The world of Lambic and Gueze (and to a lesser degree Belgian beer in general) is an old school non-scientific world. That is the magic of it for me. It's spontanious fermentation. The way the wind blows, particularly wet season, spiders in cantillon, sourcing of the wood used for aging ect ect ect all can effect the character of the beer. Now I openly admit that some of this stuff is probably BS. How but can you quantify that? Do you even want to quantify that? I just listen to people that have been brewing and or drinking this style many years before me.
  18. pmoney

    pmoney Crusader (709) Apr 15, 2011 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    I definitely want to try doing that. For now I don't have the space, but in the next year or two I will. I'm guessing most people go 100% one way or the other for the most part over time, so going 50/50 with the same type of beer should result in a good comparison.

    I'm counting on you to answer my question, and I'm willing to wait to few years to find out! :wink:
  19. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    It's actually easier than some might think. I mean, how did people figure out how to make lambic? Trial and error, combined with expedience and materials on hand. Now it's tradition.

    How did horizontal cellaring come into fashion? Supposedly organic corks work better when wet, but we're well past that now. (I think, anyway, I assume that natural corks are coated with something.) Maybe people kept doing it after that rationale stopped being appropriate. Alternatively, storing horizontally makes it significantly easier to store many bottles in a confined space and still be able to access them all. Have you seen the racks of conditioning bottles at Cantillon? Can you imagine arranging something that worked that well with vertical storage? It would be awful. So there's some expedience.

    Anyway, to quantify it for yourself you just need to ask yourself "which is expedient?" If both are about equal, or you only care about taste, do the experiment for yourself. It's not like it's hard, it just requires time and a tiny bit of effort. The answer will vary between people, as with all questions about taste.
  20. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (518) Feb 22, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    Well then get me some gueuze, STAT.
  21. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,128) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I noted when touring Cantillon that all the bottles were stored in alcoves on their sides and stacked from the floor to almost as high as an adult could reach. I also noted that if they didn't store them that way there wouldn't be enough space in the brewery to store all those bottles. The floors were crowded and the existing open space was for work to be done and it would be very difficult to find places to build shelves for storage. Side storage seemed the only solution given the space available.

    Edit: It also looked to be the case that the building was the same size ( floor space) as when it was built...
  22. BearsOnAcid

    BearsOnAcid Savant (957) Mar 17, 2009 Washington
    Beer Trader

    Store them however you want to store them. I don't think it truely makes any difference other than horizontally stored bottles being highly accessible. Some argue that there's less of the beer's surface in contact with oxygen when they are vertical which will change the development of the beer. I can't imagine it would be a highly noticeable difference in taste if you did a comparison.
    DrEntropy and callmemickey like this.
  23. tbadiuk

    tbadiuk Aspirant (268) Feb 9, 2009 Manitoba (Canada)
    Beer Trader

    All I know is, I don't really like the idea of my beer soaking in cork for years. I'd rather store it upright and keep it away from the cork. Also, given Cantillon's capped *and* corked bottles, you'd figure that would be enough even vertically. However, I doubt any lambic I own will last beyond 5 years before I get around to drinking it, so "aging" here is a bit of a relative term...
  24. davey101

    davey101 Meyvn (1,080) Apr 14, 2009 Connecticut
    Beer Trader

    I kept my lambics horizontal in a wine cooler. I have yet to age one over a year so its pretty irrelevant though.
  25. BearsOnAcid

    BearsOnAcid Savant (957) Mar 17, 2009 Washington
    Beer Trader

    I've had many old bottles that sat on the cork with no ill effects to the beer. These bottles had a stain on the side where the yeast caked on. They would have to be on their side for a considerable amount of time for that to happen. Maybe 10+ years.
  26. yinzer

    yinzer Initiate (0) Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Sometimes I think that this is true. A few hundred years are some lackey was told to stack a bunch of bottles. You can stack them really easy on their side. And I don't think that it was really anyone's intention to cellar most beer for more than a few years.

    So I store all my corked and capped on the side because they fit nicely into the stack-able storage bins that I have. Although one Lou-Pepe in leaking. The corked and caged go vertical.
  27. tbadiuk

    tbadiuk Aspirant (268) Feb 9, 2009 Manitoba (Canada)
    Beer Trader

    Oh, I never said my thinking on being "cork-averse" was all that sound, it's almost a superstitious on my part I know! :stuck_out_tongue: However, given my personal timeframe for aging beers I don't think it really matters too much. I just like the idea of the cork not touching the beer I guess...
  28. callmemickey

    callmemickey Meyvn (1,236) Aug 12, 2007 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I don't think it matters one damn bit. I store mine standing up because it is more convenient for me.
    zookerman182, Tnudish, Brew33 and 2 others like this.
  29. Plenum

    Plenum Initiate (0) Apr 29, 2009 New Jersey

    Before I had wine racks installed, I had some of mine vertical on shelves, and the rest tucked away in Insignia wooden wine boxes stored horizontally. I installed wine racks about 15 months ago, and since then have stored all of the lambics (about 200 bottles) and most of my sours horizontally.

    If you're looking for a cheap way to store Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen bottles horizontally, go to your local wine store and ask them for empty wooden wine boxes for Insignia wine. It's the only box I've found that is deep enough to handle the wider lambic bottles. Each box holds six bottles, and the lid actually screws down into the side of the box...keeps curious spouses and guests out, and makes you do a little work to get to your lambic, so impulse drinking is also reduced. Insignia is a really expensive wine, so don't show up at your corner store looking for the boxes. Around the end of the year is the best time to find them available. And there's always eBay if you're into paying $30/box. The boxes are longer and flat, so they stack well next to your shelves.

    And if you're going to a wine store that will actually give you the boxes for free, be a sport and buy something from them while you're there picking up the boxes...especially if it's a place you don't regularly shop. It's the polite thing to do, and will likely get you boxes the next time you ask too.
    moose1980 and claaark13 like this.
  30. birchstick

    birchstick Poo-Bah (1,666) Sep 2, 2007 Colorado

    Are the are any issues with the cork drying out after long-term horizontal storage?
  31. callmemickey

    callmemickey Meyvn (1,236) Aug 12, 2007 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Well, if the beer is stored horizontally, the cork is constantly exposed to beer. If you are referring to vertical storage, given that the bottle is filled with beer and is carbonated, there is a fair bit of moisture in the head space that should keep the cork moist.
  32. birchstick

    birchstick Poo-Bah (1,666) Sep 2, 2007 Colorado

    I'm an idiot - I meant does horizontal, not vertical, storage dry out corks? Good catch, callmemickey.
    aj_tuna likes this.
  33. jedwards

    jedwards Initiate (2) Feb 3, 2009 California

    For corked-and-capped beers (like Cantillon, De Ranke, and Fantome), I haven't experienced any problems with bottles 10+ years old being stored upright -- in theory the cap should prevent the transfer of liquid/vapor between the bottle and the outside environment. Bottles with compressed champagne-style corks also shouldn't experience any problems with upright storage since their seal is not dependent on the cork being well-saturated (the CIVC did a number of experiments with champagne which indicated a slight disadvantage to horizontal cellaring -- their hypothesis was that contact between the liquid and the compressed cork reduced the elasticity of the cork permitting more gas transfer. More here: http://beeradvocate.com/community/t...e-fridges-work-for-cellering.4839/#post-61131 ).

    I can't think of any beers* that still use the uncompressed wine-style corks, but those that used to (A. Le Coq Double Extra Imperial Stout, Gale's Old Ale, Sam Adams Triple Bock, etc) definitely had serious issues with long-term upright storage, including significant ullage and oxidization.

    *: The Newport Storm Annual Releases don't count as beer in my book :wink:
    landhoney likes this.
  34. waltersrj

    waltersrj Initiate (0) Dec 16, 2010 Washington

    I think you got this one wrong twice in a row lol...
    aj_tuna, Tnudish, yojimbo1 and 2 others like this.
  35. birchstick

    birchstick Poo-Bah (1,666) Sep 2, 2007 Colorado

    Wow, lol. *VERTICAL* storage is what I initially meant to say. Was reading horizontal in my head when I typed it out the second time. Thanks, Walter and Mickey.
  36. TheBeerSnob

    TheBeerSnob Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012

    My cellar is designed for wine, hence, I have no choice but to cellar everything on it's side. Since it's kept at 56*F and out of the light, I feel like horizontal vs vertical is of little concern.

    One pro-vertical consideration to add: less beer exposed to the air in the bottle.
  37. pmoney

    pmoney Crusader (709) Apr 15, 2011 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    This is true!

  38. paulys55

    paulys55 Zealot (587) Aug 2, 2010 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    But is there acutally "air" or oxygen in the bottle?
  39. TheBeerSnob

    TheBeerSnob Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012

    aaaaand I'm an idiot. Somehow my eye glanced over that.

    Yes, but it's so minimal that I'm not even sure the "exposure" difference between hor/vert storage matters.
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