It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Hate to admit it but I did it again. It's that old adage, "fool me once shame on me,
fool me twice, shame on me" come to life except I've been fooled many times making me one
huge fool. And no Bill, you really don't have to agree with that. Once again I bought an old
tasting IPA; a six pack that didn't have a date printed on it. It cans were clean and the brewery
was to to my local store so I figured the odds of it being fresh were incredibly high. Wrong.
Well that's it. I'm publicly going on record as saying from now on I will look for a date code
100 percent of the time and if it isn't there I'm not buying it. I’ve had too many bad experiences;
I’m not willing to gamble anymore.”
Now before you accuse me (again) of whining about nothing important let me tell you that on a
recent visit to Connecticut, Dan Kenary, the co-founder and CEO of Boston’s Harpoon
Brewery, discovered that 60 percent of the unrefrigerated beers at one retail account did not
have code dates. At a conference of industry professionals he said “That’s shameful, We
make a perishable product that has a shelf life much closer to milk than it does to wine or
spirits,” he continued. “I challenge everyone in the beer industry to use clear, legible,
consumer-friendly code dates.”. I like this guy!
As I see it you can't over emphasize the importance of maintaining quality standards especially
since hundreds of new category entrants continue to flood an already crowded craft beer
segment that has swelled to more than 5,400 companies. It makes sense for both the
consumer and the manufacturer.
As you know Bill, I love IPAs and try to drink them within six weeks of canning. I believe that's
the time limit, to fully appreciate the aromatics and flavors. It's a fact that most beer is best
enjoyed when it’s fresh. Everyone knows that - 95% of craft beer drinkers cited “freshness” as
important in recent Harris Poll. The problem however is figuring out exactly, what fresh means
in the beer business. Every brewery has its own method for determining how long its beer is
considered “fresh,” and within the industry, there are no standards governing how freshness
dates should be communicated to consumers. The fact that there are no official government
standards for the “sell by” or “use by” dates on eggs or milk at the grocery store, either doesn't
excuse the beer industry. Bye the way, the only product for which the Food Safety and
Inspection Service regulates sell-by dates is infant formula.
The Brewers Association agrees with me. They recently introduced a voluntary disclosure
initiative that encouraged all brewers to provide freshness dating via “born on” or “best by”
date codes. But voluntary is just that - they don't have to do it and many don't.
I'm getting myself angry over this. Ugh, I need a FRESH beer
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - Wait a minute, if you're so keen about born on dates why is it you've never told me
your age? Ha.
I too always look for dates on cans and bottles. And as you said, even when you find them it can
get confusing. Some breweries simply stamp a date onto the bottom of the can, which is usually a
“canned on” date, even if it doesn’t say so. Others provide an “enjoy by” date somewhere on the
label. As I see it each method has its inherent flaws. Just providing the “born on” date assumes
customers know how long a particular beer or style is good. A “best before” date is more helpful,
but it doesn’t clearly tell a customer how fresh a particular beer is. For example I did some
research and discovered that Flying Dog’s “enjoy by” date is 170 days after bottling; Sierra
Nevada’s is 150 days; Stone Brewing’s beer could be anywhere from 90 to 120 days. Trying to
figure out the age of the six-pack on the shelf in front of you from its canning date can take some
serious mathematical gymnastics.
Give Stone credit for their “Enjoy By” IPA series. They makes it easy, putting the expiration date
front and center in the beer name, and giving drinkers 37 days from the brew date to buy (or
finish) a six-pack before it’s pulled from stores. But then there are breweries such as Lagunitas.
Not only does it make codes difficult to read by stamping black ink on the neck of a brown bottle,
it uses Julian dating, so that, for example, the number “154 7” would signify that the beer was
bottled on the 154th day of 2017, or June 3. Good luck deciphering that without Google. Frankly
I think they do that so a consumer can't know the date while they still can claim they put it there.
In defense of the wide range of how long a beer is “best by” I believe i comes down to hops and
science. Any brewer will tell you that the hops in a beer begin to degrade almost immediately
after it’s made, (that's especially acute with beers that are dry-hopped) specifically for their
aromatics — like most of the juicy IPAs that we really enjoy . Speaking of which, I'm convinced
that the time limit to really get the full impact of those is 2 to 4 weeks from bottling. Don't get me
wrong, these beers are still really enjoyable six weeks on, but then you're moving away from what
the brewers intended. The aroma and vibrance of the hops fade, and the all-important balance
the brewers lost sleep over will be gone.
And let's give credit where credit is due to Anheuser-Busch (did I really write that?) They brought
“born on” date labeling into the mainstream in 1996. Although they give Budweiser and Bud
Light a rather long shelf life of 110 days their commitment to freshness seems real: Despite my
disdain for their gobbling up craft breweries many can take a lesson from their practice of
convening regular “freshness panels” with blind tastings. They also have heavily invested in new
technology, including a proprietary cap liner that absorbs any oxygen in the bottle. I know what
you're think, why would they, their beer is bad fresh or old. That's too tough for me to answer.
My bottom line is this Gina. I don't think my enjoyment level of a beer will greatly change if it's 30
days old instead of 3 days old. However I firmly believe the consumer should be able to make a
fully informed decision when it comes to selecting a beer. And that means knowing the date!
Here's looking at you Gina