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How Long Does Beer Last?

Connoisseur's Corner (Issue 35)
Pat Evans Connoisseur's Corner
Pat Evans

Beer is best fresh. There is little debate about this in the craft brewing community. However, some beers can be saved for a longer period of time, and others, such as bottle-conditioned beers, are actually designed to evolve in nuance and flavor over time. The question of "how long does beer last?" is a common refrain for the average beer drinker. With the proliferation of full-flavored beers in a kaleidoscope of styles, it is more important than ever for consumers to be aware of how old a beer is, as well as how long that particular beer can be enjoyed for best flavor. Let's take a look at some general practices that can help you make good decisions when considering your next beer purchase.

When I buy a new beer, I do my best to check to see how old it is; if it’s older than two months, I rarely pull the trigger on a purchase.

IPAs are best consumed fresh, ideally within a month of packaging, and preferably no older than three months. This is because the degradation of hops occurs rapidly. 

With the amount of IPAs available on the market, this is an almost impossible achievement on a regular basis. I often find IPAs on store shelves that are a year or more old -- a tragedy of the highest degree.

Even so, a fresh-from-the-brewery-tap IPA is a vastly different experience than a month-old can of the same beer, so always try to experience that for a comparison.

Many breweries do print a “packaged on” or “born on” date on their beers. While a nice idea, this information is only helpful to the beer drinkers that know two things: How to look for that information and what that date means for the beer itself. More often than not, the dates are hidden underneath the can or printed in a miniscule font on dark bottle sides. Even if a consumer finds that information, they may not know what to do with that obscured series of numbers.

Putting a “best by” date also shouldn't be seen as an expiration date, as beer doesn't technically spoil, it just becomes less tasty over time. A beer past its ideal state can taste bad and turn off consumers from trying different beers from an otherwise great brewery -- all because the beer was too old.

Sünner Kolsch from Sünner Brauerei showcases its "best before" date via cut-outs on the back label. This example is best enjoyed before August of 2018.

San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co. has found a unique solution to "best by" date concerns by releasing the "Enjoy By" series. With its "enjoy by" date printed front and center as the name and focal point of each version's label, a consumer knows exactly when this beer should be imbibed for best flavor.

On the flip side, Stone also has an “Enjoy After” series of Brettanomyces-infused IPAs, which lets fans know that this wild IPA will continue to develop after purchase and also states when it would be best to open. 

Other examples of breweries that offer “best by” or “best before” dates on their bottles include New Belgium Brewing Co. and Odell Brewing Co.