Fresh Beer Is Better Beer
by John R. Reidy
When's the last time you checked the production date on your bottle
of beer? Most people seem to assume if the six pack is clean and cold
in your local store it must be fresh. Sorry, but that's often not the
case. I recently did a spot check of a few beers on my last visit to pick
up some libations and found that nearly 20% of those that had dates
on it were well past their prime. Needless to say I can only imagine
how old the beers without dates must be. And equally needless to say
I won't be back to shop at that place again.
Please remember, beer is a perishable product. Almost all craft beers
from a porters to a IPAs are not meant to age. The general rule of
thumb is the fresher they are, the better they are.
The emphasis on due dates and spoilage isn’t necessarily new, but not
a lot of beer aficionados paid much attention to fading flavor profiles
and staleness when it came to Budweiser and its “Born on” campaign,
though they do deserve credit for bringing the issue to the forefront
regardless of their reasons. The renewed concern about being sure
the beer you're buying is fresh relates directly to the quality-driven
appeal of craft beer. It's true that craft beers in great demand can be
choosy about who is allowed to sell it making sure they can turn the
product over and won't for instance set it out on warm store shelves.
Retailers who do that will lose their account. For slower moving craft
beers all bets are off.
Freshness for many styles of beer is an issue you’re hearing about
more and more as craft beer continues to boom. The most popular
style today is an IPA but most of its fans probably don't know that in
general you should be drinking your favorite IPA within two months of
when it was brewed.
But wait. Wasn’t the IPA style originally created centuries ago to
endure long voyages by ship without going rancid? Yes and no. There
is some truth to the notion that adding extra hops, the telltale flavor
notes in IPAs, may preserve beer, but some sources now dispute that
this was ever the defining element of the pale ale’s origins.
"The idea of beer being invented specifically for shipping to India
doesn’t appear to be true,” said Mitch Steele, brewmaster at San
Diego’s Stone Brewing. He says adding dry hops may help inhibit
bacterial growth, but “that was fairly standard practice with a lot of
This led Steele to create the Enjoy By series for Stone Brewing. These
IPAs have an expiration date as part of the name. And they sell out
quickly. And I've done my share in helping that happen. Beer
aficionados got the message. On Stone’s website, the brewery asks
beer lovers to “check the date code on the shoulder of the bottle
before you buy, and if it’s expired, earn craft beer karma by reporting
The website also has a helpful guide for how long various beer styles
remain fresh. Stone’s Enjoy By series of IPAs, for example, are best
within 35 days of bottling, while other styles last for 90 days and some,
such as the porter, extend to 120 days. Many other craft breweries
have begun similiar initiatives.
Sierra Nevada is so concerned about freshness it is building a brewery
in North Carolina to cut down on shipping time. It already went to
great lengths to ship beer in refrigerated trucks. “Oxygen is terrible for
beer,” said Sierra Nevada brewmaster Steve Dresler, noting that the
bottle cap is not a perfect seal. If your supposedly great beer tastes a
little like cardboard, it’s stale.
Now before Bob, who keeps one great beer cellar, gets mad at me, I
do acknowledge that some beers do well stored and aged at cellar
temperature. Yes it's true, some beers can be even better if you wait.
That's especially true for beers like points to imperial stouts and barley
wines. If correctly aged some of these will improve over several years.
I'd like to say thanks to Bob for giving me a chance to write this
month's column. It was a real treat to be part of the BeerNexus
writing group. I know many of them through Bob and they all truly
love beer and maintain this site for that reason alone. And that's why
you can trust what you see here!
Many thanks to John for this month's article. As you can see he's a
very knowledgeable beer person who as often served as a resource for
many of my own articles. Good job, John!
Please remember I encourage all my readers to send me their articles
and just maybe you'll see yours in print just like John!
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