Part I of a series on the age of beer, freshness and cellaring.
DEMAND BREWERIES DATE THEIR BEER
While it is obvious that any time is a good time for beer, time and beer have a complicated but fundamental relationship in the realm of beer enjoyment. Time affects beer just as it affects any food, but its nature can be quite fickle. Most people understand that freshness is often essential when it comes to beer, and advertising from commodity beer brewers has reinforced this notion. Time can be beer’s worst enemy. On the other hand, as the well-versed beer drinker knows, age can also be a wise friend to beer. Both consumers and retailers need to understand the interaction between time and different beer styles and the organization of fridge and shelf or cellar space should be based upon this knowledge.
The complexity of beer is attributed to the variety of sources that different flavors can be derived from: different amounts and varieties of hops and grains, different yeast strains, multitudes of flavorings at the brewer’s discretion, and the level of alcohol in the end product. Time reacts with each of these elements differently. This explains why different types of beer require different methods of storage.
Hops are the top priority when it comes to beer age and freshness is tantamount. The flavor and aroma compounds that we squeeze out of the hop flower are by far the most degradable part of beer. Any beer with substantial hop flavors or aromas should be refrigerated at all times. This includes, but is not limited to, Pale Ales, single and double India Pale Ales, and real Pilseners. Any beer where hops are central to the beer is in danger of fading to flavor oblivion in a matter of weeks to months.
Retailers should be aware the savvy consumers avoid room temperature hoppy beers, especially if they are not freshness dated. There is nothing worse than buying a good beer and finding out upon tasting it that the signature hop profile of the brew has disappeared, leaving behind a sickly sticky overly malty mess. I have experienced beer tastings at restaurants where attendees have bought faded hoppy beers off the shelves. Inexperienced beer drinkers won’t realize they aren’t getting the right experience with this beer thanks to the lack of freshness dating from most breweries.
Drinkers drink a sub-par product that is not fresh from quality brewers like Ballast Point or Port Brewing and not only are the names of the beers tarnished, but the breweries and craft beer in general are cast in a negative light as well. All because breweries, distributors, and retailers fail to maintain freshness. This is a grievous problem in the brewing industry and also the explanation as to why I insist that all brewers voluntarily freshness date their products. It is sad that major breweries have better control over freshness and maintaining taste as compared to craft breweries, especially when they have so much less flavor to protect.
Brewers must take responsibility for the freshness of their products. Leaving it up to retailers is a gamble they should not be willing to take with their beer and their brand. As a consumer, demand that breweries freshness date their beer.