Emily Hutto's picture

Drink That Hoppy Beer While It's Fresh

If you’ve ever taken a swig of a bottled IPA and thought to yourself that it doesn’t taste quite like the beer you remember from the brewery or the bar, you’re probably right. Before you blame the brewery, though, you might want to consider how long that beer has been on the shelf.

According to an article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the iso-alpha acids in hops that are created in a boil are the major contributor to the bitter taste of beer, and also the reason that beer loses its hoppiness over time. Iso-alpha acids are very susceptible to oxidation, which leaves behind a stale taste and aroma in the place of bitterness.

“The fact that hops fade over time is widely known,” points out BJCP beer judge Patrick Dawson in his book about aging beer, Vintage Beer. In that chapter he explains that many breweries have diligently alerted their customers to the fading of hops over time. He cites Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny The Elder Double IPA that’s plastered with messages like “Sit on Eggs. Don’t Sit on Pliny,” and “Hops Don’t Improve With Age.”

Dogfish Head published a web article called 5 Things You Should Know About Aging Beer that explains this fading of hops as well. “Hops – whether bitter, floral or citrusy – fade with time,” it said, “so IPAs and other hop-forward beers aren't great candidates for aging.”

Another brewer, Societe Brewing Company in San Diego, believes IPAs aren’t great candidates for bottling, either. “I never say never, but I might say we’re never going to bottle an IPA,” explained assistant executive officer Mike Sardina. “IPA doesn’t hold up in a bottle. It should be drunk on tap instead.”

Societe is very much an IPA-driven brewery, Sardina said. “Our motto and mission is to brew the best beer we can every day without compromising quality.”

La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque shares that same focus on IPA and commitment to quality. The brewery’s Elevated IPA is canned to preserve freshness (and promote outdoor adventures), and only distributed across the state of New Mexico.

“There’s no reason to be sending IPAs across the country,” La Cumbre president Jeff Erway said. “I’m a big promoter of fresh beer, period.”