You enter the beer store and you see row after row of cans and bottles on warm shelves. You see a label, brewery or style you like and pay $15 for the four pack without thinking you are doing anything wrong. When you get home, you try it and it tastes terrible and not at all what the brewery intended. What gives?! What a waste.
This is an unfortunate side effect of beer growth and it’s easy to avoid if you know how to properly buy beer. With thousands of breweries (9709 craft breweries to be exact as per 2022 numbers via the Brewers Association) vying for your attention and beer stores carrying many beer brands and their multiple SKUs/labels; here are simple rules to make sure you are getting the freshest and best beer possible.
Buy from Reputable Store or Brewery
Find a store or brewery you trust with people who work there that are passionate about beer. Many of these stores or breweries sell beer by the single bottle/can so you can try it at home before you buy a six pack. This is a great way to get variety without spending a lot of money. If you’re at a brewery, you can ask to try it on draft before buying it if they have it for sale that way. Yes, you can always ask for a taste of beer at a bar or brewery before buying a full pint or six pack!
Go Straight to the Cooler
Beer is essentially a salad; you read that right. It’s made with agricultural products like hops and malt and these fresh ingredients can degrade over time, faster in warmer conditions like room temperature. Keeping beer cold can prolong its freshness. If you shop from the beer cooler, your beer already will be tasting better, especially if you are looking for beers loaded with hops like IPAs. As beer ages, it can become sweeter and the hop flavor and aroma will decrease.
Check Date Codes Immediately
Just like when you check a box of salad or a gallon of milk for a “best by” date, you should be checking your beers for these dates before buying at stores and breweries (yes, I’ve seen some OLD beers on shelves even at breweries). On cans, they are usually on the bottom of the can and on bottles they are either on the label or printed on the neck. They can either be “born on” dates with the date of packaging or “best by” similar to perishable items. For born on, try to buy closest to the packaging date and if it’s a “best by,” if that date is fast approaching, perhaps reconsider that purchase. Popular hoppy options like hazy IPAs should be drank as fresh as possible.
Can you Age this Beer?
A few beer styles can withstand months to years of aging and even taste better a bit older like imperial stouts or barleywines. But would you want to drink a year old double IPA or American lager? Most certainly not. The thing to know is, once beer leaves a brewery, it’s ready to drink and should be done so sooner rather than later. If you do bring beer home and you aren’t planning on drinking it for a bit, put it in the fridge or in a cool, dry, dark place that is cellar temperature like a basement or closet.
Once you know these tips and tricks, you can feel confident that the beer you purchase is what the brewery intends you to drink. Cheers to good tasting beer!