Have you ever bought a beer, driven home, and sat down to enjoy one, only to realize that your beer was past the “best by” date? What do you do? Is the beer worth drinking?
Most brewers these days put either a “bottled on” or “best by” date on the bottle. The “bottled on” date is useful both for knowing how fresh the beer is or how aged the beer is.
Alcohol Content and Aging
Some beers need to be consumed relatively quickly, as in three to six months. This is especially true for lighter beers that are low in alcohol content. The bitterness in these beers will fade as they age and they will lose the balance to their flavor. Knowing how fresh the beer is helps the decision making process when buying a blonde beer.
Other beers get better as they age. In a BeerAdvocate article about freshness dates Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione says that they have found beers with an alcohol by volume (abv) of 7-10% to age well for about a year. Beers over 10% age well for up to ten years. Some people like to keep a cellar of aging beers to try out in the future, and having a “bottled on” date helps them to keep track of the exact age of these beers.
The Ambiguity of “Best By” Dates
The “best by” date is going to give you the brewer’s best estimate of how long the beer will be good for, but there are many variables at play. The characteristics of the beer itself (alcohol content, bitterness, etc) are going to affect how the beer ages. Even here, the change in taste as the beer ages is totally subjective to the person trying the beer. Some will like a given beer at a certain age, others won’t.
Just last week I bought a six pack of a copper ale from a local store, and after thoroughly enjoying the first bottle I noticed that the beer was past its expiration date. Six months past. Even though the first bottle of the beer was great, the last five seemed stale. It seems that perception can become reality, even if none of the factors change.
On top of the beer’s characteristics, treatment during distribution is very important. Is the beer kept refrigerated while it is transported and stored? Is it kept out of direct light (which can cause “skunkiness” in the beer)? If attention isn’t given to these details the beer can go bad before you buy it, even if the bottle says it should still be fresh.
Is the Beer Still Good?
There isn’t a clear answer as to whether a beer is still good after its “best by” date, but the cop-out answer is that you are going to have the best experience before that date with most beers. Even if the beer hasn’t reached its “best by” date it may have gone bad due to poor handling. If it is past the date you may still enjoy the taste. Maybe your tastes are different or that particular beer ages well.
What do you think? Would you try a beer after its “best by” date has come and gone?