Aging Like a Fine Wine or Fermenting Like a Stout Beer?

We’ve all heard the adage, “Like a fine wine, you’re getting better with age.” It’s supposed to be a compliment, but the simile doesn’t hold up scientifically.  Not all wine ages well. Indeed, most white wines hate aging and reds can tolerate only a limited amount before calling it quits.

If we truly compare our aging with that of wine, we run the risk of staleness, sourness, and causing those sampling us to eject us into the tasting spittoon of life. Besides, the whole aged wine is better notion probably started as a marketing campaign long ago. It’s time to relegate this analogy to the recycling bin.

Truth be told, I’m not a big wine drinker anyway. I prefer beer. I prefer brewing my own beer and generously sampling the beers brewed by friends, and therein dwells a truer comparison with the process of aging. It’s not age that makes a great beverage, it’s fermentation. What is wine without fermentation but old grape juice? What is beer without fermentation but strange tasting barley and hop tea? Aging alone does very little, but fermentation changes the entire character of a mundane, sugary liquid into a refreshing beverage with a kick. So, like a well-crafted beer, we should focus not on aging gracefully but rather fermenting with intention!

The fermentation process is the chemistry between yeast and a raw mix of ingredients that creates an exhilarating, bacteria-free refreshment. So how do we become “psychologically” exhilarating and “emotionally” bacteria-free people as the result of a similar process? I’m talking about a metaphorical fermentation of the mind, not what might happen in the gastrointestinal tract, often leading to an empty social calendar. Stay with me. This is where it might get a little weird.

To ferment like an interesting and well-brewed beverage, we must inject new ideas into our mental soup to generate intoxicating possibilities. The “yeast” of mental fermentation is the idea. A person who is fermenting gracefully is a person who considers new approaches to old situations instead of resting on familiar and routine patterns. But ideas have to be intentionally generated—most idea creation requires effort.

The brain of a long-lived person is full of raw ingredients. There are good memories, bad memories, failures, successes, mistakes, lucky breaks, relationships, facts, fantasies, stories, recipes, bad jokes, and all manner of collected experiences. It’s a wonderful mess up there. Enter the yeasty idea, searching through the stacks of stored memories and experience looking for something to bundle, integrate, harmonize, and interface into the outside world—mental fermentation.

One yeasty idea for starters is investing in about $400 of beer-making equipment. The process is relatively simple. There are groups you can join, techniques to share, samples to taste and unlimited experiences in fermentation . . . both liquid and mental.

Dan Schmieding is an older fellow who shifted gears midlife from advertising and marketing to cartooning and writing humor with his book The Art of Rejection: Work hard, work smart, give of yourself, do what is right and you will come out ahead in the end. These and other myths are explored by a highly-rejected cartoonist. Available on


Discussion1 Comment

  1. If I’m going to get better with age, I’d better hop to it. And, while I’d like to be perceived as complex and mellow, I would like to retain just a note of bitterness.
    Now, get offa my lawn!

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