Working in a bottleshop each day surrounded by 100’s of different beers is always interesting. We notice the little things, the differences in beer labels, alcohol content and... beer dates.
You would think there would be some consistency in the best before dates on beers, but there are multiple reasons why this doesn’t occur:
- Some beers such as sour beers and imperial stouts are made for cellaring. Just like a good wine they will develop different characteristics overtime. In fact, a lot of the sour beers we sell (Cantillon, Boon etc), will have best before dates of 10 years from the date of bottling. (NB: If you do look to cellar any beers, make sure you keep them standing up, rather than lying flat like wine)
- Some brewers just like to be different. In the US, one brewer (Stone Brewing Co), doesn’t put best before dates on it’s beers but rather freshness ‘Enjoy By’ dates. In some cases the brewery recommends that consumers drink the beer in just 35 days from bottling so that the flavour and aroma of ingredients are at their maximum!
- In different markets, different dates are applied. For instance at some breweries in the US, a best before date of 6 months is given, while the same product bound for the Australian market will instead have 12 months (most know that coming from the US it is somewhat difficult to sell through beer in 6 months when a third of the that time is spent en-route to Australia).
- Another anomaly is the writing of beer dates – in the USA this is in MM-DD-YYYY format which is in contrast to Australia’s DD-MM-YYYY.
- And then there are some breweries, like Coopers and Lord Nelson, who place a ‘Best After’ date rather than a best before date on their beers.
The reality is that beers will develop different characteristics overtime and having tried a significant number of beers at various stages of their ‘shelf life’ there are a few things we’ve learnt. The main being that the most significant changes typically occur with super hoppy beers (think IPAs), where over time the hop aroma, flavour and bitterness is lost at the expense of more malty flavours coming through. The beer is still drinkable, it’ll just have changed.
We try to live by the old adage “fresh is best”, but there are times when the adage just doesn’t make sense or apply.