Whether you’re putting together a weekend barbecue or want to ensure your favorite local craft beer is fresh, one of the most important steps to enjoying it is knowing how to store your beer. There’s nothing worse than the beer you were craving just not tasting right.
Does Beer Expire?
The short answer is that yes, beer expires. But saying the beer expires is a bit misleading, it doesn’t actually become unsafe to drink, it just starts to taste unappealing or flat. To help answer questions about how long your beer is good for, here is a short guide that answers your major questions.
Does Beer Go Bad?
Like other foods, beer is made from organic plant ingredients that eventually decay. Brewers work to make the beer last as long as possible, and they have some major advantages – the alcohol content, beer’s low pH, and the antimicrobial activity of hops. When properly brewed and packaged, the only things in your beer are the ingredients and the smallest amount of air.
It is impossible to package beer without the smallest amount of oxygen. Over time that oxygen changes the beer, and the process of “oxidation” adds to a range of flavors. It can add a stale flavor similar to cardboard, with a touch of sherry. Some malty beers can develop sweet, grainy, caramel, and toffee notes. Temperature also affects the speed of oxidation. The warmer the environment, the faster the staling. This is why beer is best kept cold.
A beer’s “hoppiness” also diminishes over time. The aromatic citrusy, floral, or tropical hop aromas that can be found in hop-forward beers will disintegrate as hop aromas are very time-sensitive.
Lastly, light can create the dreaded “skunky-flavored” beer. Chemicals in hops react poorly with ultraviolet light – which is why beer goes into light-blocking brown bottles and cans. If you haven’t experienced this – keep it that way!
Best Practices for Storing Beer
This one is easy – beer should be stored for a short time in a dark, cool place. If you have room in your fridge, that is the best spot. If the fridge is full, keeping your beer in the basement or a cool closet is the next-best place.
Needless to say, the hot trunk of a car or a sunny kitchen counter are some of the worst places for your beer – so keep that time to a minimum.
Curious about shelf life? Remember the 3/30/300 Rule: A Firestone beer stored at 98 degrees F for 3 days is equivalent to one stored at 72 degrees F for 30 days or one stored at 35 degrees F for 300 days.
How old is my beer?
Almost every beer has a date printed on it. When treated properly, this is the date the brewery believes their beer still tastes as they intended it. There are a few ways to label this date.
At Firestone, we make it easy with a “born on” date. The bottle label or bottom of the can shares the date it was packaged. Format: Month / Day / Year bottled, Military time stamp (ex: 1/1/20 23:40)
Other breweries use what is called a Julian date code printed on the neck of the bottle. It’s often 3 numerical digits followed by one more digit. The first three digits represent the day of the year, with the last digit being the last number of the year. For example, 165 0 would be the 165th day of 2020 (June 13th). Sometimes this number can appear as 0165 – with the year coming first, followed by the day of the year.
Lastly, some breweries put a best-by date on their bottle. This can be tricky as the consumer doesn’t know how long the beer good for. Is it 4 months, 6 months, a year? Know that the closer you are to the best-by date, the older the beer.
Keep your beers cold, this ensures freshness and ultimately a great beer!
Intentionally aging beer
Some beers develop admirable flavors over time, and intentionally aging beer is a hobby of its own. As a rule of thumb, if you enjoy drinking beer, you want to drink it closer to the day it was brewed. That is how you get to taste the beer the way we, as brewers, intended it to be.
Deadset on cellaring that bottle of 2020 Parabola to try next year? We get it. Aging beer allows various flavors not immediately present to develop over time. Just remember that not all beers are good candidates for the effects of gentle aging and cellaring.
Beers that can be cellared: Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, Belgian style Quads, and other high-ABV beers with dark malts. Barrel-aged sours and rauchbiers are lower ABV but can age beautifully.
Beers that shouldn’t be cellared: Any beers with hop-forward characteristics, such as IPAs and Pale Ales. Most lagers and session beers are also poor candidates for aging and should be consumed fresh.
Read our other blog post to learn more and tips and tricks on properly cellaring your beer for a great sipping experience every time.