People age bottles of wine for years and sometimes decades at a time and swear that, for some bottles, the flavor improves. Bottles of spirits can seemingly age forever and still taste great. What about beer? The short answer… no. Beer is to be consumed fresh. Beer is perishable and most beers need to be consumed relatively quickly to taste their best. Here’s why.
Good Flavors Diminish
As beer ages, the desirable characteristics start to fade. An IPA with a bright hop aroma of mango and grapefruit peel will lose its pop the longer it ages. The brownie batter and espresso flavors in a rich Imperial Stout will begin to blend into a generic “sweet” taste. The longer the beer ages the less it resembles the product that the brewers intended. Every brewery sends its beer out ready to drink, and for many styles freshness is of the ultimate importance.
Bad Flavors Develop
In lighter colored beers, flavors of honey, wax, paper and even wet cardboard can develop as the beer ages. In darker beers, flavors of sherry or other oxidized characteristics will begin to overtake the original flavors and aromas of the beer. Very few people are going to be interested in a wet cardboard and sherry flavored brown ale.
How To Prevent It
While it is impossible to stop the staling process in beer, keeping the beer at cold temperatures will definitely slow down the effects of aging. Miller Brewing Company established the 3-30-300 rule to illustrate this point. The concept is that the same Miller product kept at refrigerator temperature for 300 days tasted just as fresh as the same beer kept at room temperature (68 degrees) for 30 days, and was just as fresh as the same beer stored at 95 degrees for three days. This is how important refrigeration is.
How Old Is Too Old?
The good news about beer going stale is that it is never unsafe to drink. Beer has been around for nearly 9000 years because no known pathogens can survive in it. So, if you find a Budweiser in your grandfather’s basement from 30 years ago, you can drink it safely (if you’re desperate enough). Now, if the goal is to drink beer that tastes good, most craft beers will retain freshness for roughly six months if kept refrigerated. That window dramatically decreases as the temperature increases, as noted above. Pasteurized beers can last a little longer.
Check The Dates!!
Don’t assume that your favorite beer store has 100% fresh beer on the shelves. Beer stores are faced with the paradox of keeping as many beers on the shelf as possible for the ever fickle craft drinker and trying to operate as a purveyor of fresh product. The two are obviously somewhat mutually exclusive. It is up to consumers to check date codes on bottles to make sure that the product is going to taste as the brewer intended. So, go grab a six pack, check the date and enjoy.