Craft beer is expensive and there’s no reason not to enjoy it at its peak quality. Most beer is meant to be drank immediately. The fresher the better. This includes lagers, american ales, and wheat beers. If you want to experience the full flavor palette that the brewer intended, drink it fresh.
Can I Get a Date?
So, how do you know if the beer you’re purchasing is fresh? You hope the store does its duty to rotate out old stock, but that’s not always going to be the case.
To make sure you’re purchasing fresh beer it’s best to check the date on the bottle (or can). Although clear dating practices are becoming more commonplace, there are still breweries that make it difficult to find the date stamp or decipher their dating method.
The bottle date is expressed in a few different forms such as bottled on, drink by, drink after, or cryptic numerical. The bottled on date tells what day the bottle was filled. I think a bottled on date is optimal because it gives the consumer the option to choose whether the beer is within their perceived freshness range. I would typically not purchase a beer past 60 to 90 days.
Some breweries use a drink by date, which is okay, and at least provides a clue as to how long the brewer thinks the beer will be fresh. Drink by dates are typically 90 days out.
You may also see a date stated as enjoy after. These beers are specifically meant to be stored for a period of time and drank at a later date.
Some breweries use a cryptic set of numbers corresponding to day, month, and year. This is usually not very helpful unless you know how to break the code. Check the website Fresh Beer Only for help finding and deciphering the bottle dating systems for many breweries.
There are even breweries that don’t display a date at all, so the best option these days is to know the release dates for seasonal, special, and limited beers that you purchase. Most breweries have release date calendars on their websites or give a heads-up on social media as to when their beers will be released.
Buying beer and storing it for a number of months or years is an enjoyable practice for a several reasons:
- Building up a beer cellar affords the opportunity for having lots of variety on hand.
- It’s fun to make a trip to the cellar to pick out something unique for the evening.
- The process of hunting down and purchasing cellar-capable beers can be addicting.
- As you collect beer over the years, you get to compare the same beer as new and old versions to see how flavors change.
- Certain beers have the possibility of a high trade or sale value as time goes on.
The key is know which beers age well and which don’t. In general, high-alcohol beers at 9% ABV and above are more likely to survive some aging. Malty ales such as stouts, porters, and barleywines age well, whereas hoppy beers tend to break down into less desirable flavors. There are also lower alcohol beers such as Belgian ales that are meant to be aged.
In general, beers do not necessarily get better with age, they evolve in flavor. Alcohol flavors dissipate and carbonation mellows until you’re left with a much more refined version of the original. There are a variety of aging lengths that depend upon the beer and the brewing process, but all flavor will eventually fade as time goes on.
Since light and heat both play a role in degrading the flavors of beer, a rule of thumb is to age beer in a cool, dark area, where temperatures do not exceed 68 degrees.
There’s no doubt that both fresh and aged beer can be extremely satisfying, so do some experimenting to find out what you like best. Cheers!