By Tamre Mullins, Cicerone Certified beer server and beer blogger
Bad beer happens. Sometimes it’s because you don’t like the style, but sometimes it’s because your beer is past its prime. Think “skunked.”
More and more breweries are putting date stamps on their beer or adding guidelines on their websites for how long you can expect their brews to last. In the case of Stone Brewing Co., they make it pretty clear with their “Enjoy By” series of IPAs they want customers to expect super fresh and hoppy beers.
Besides age, there are other environmental factors that play into a beer’s freshness. Unless you buy beer directly at a brewery, your pint passes through multiple hands before it hits your lips – traveling from breweries through distributors and finally landing on liquor store shelves. Who even knows how long it sits there before you buy it?
Sunlight, being mishandled and hot temperatures can also alter the taste of a beer. You need to know that each step of the way, a brewery does their best to make sure that beer makes it to your fridge safe and sound.
What beers taste best fresh?
Ideally, lighter beers are best consumed sooner rather than later. Lagers, ambers and Kӧlsch beers have more delicate flavors that can be damaged by age and environmental factors. Beers lower in alcohol content should also be consumed fresh. Look for the freshest possible beer in those styles.
Fresh beer is great for some styles, but aging can actually improve the taste of certain beer styles if done properly. The term is called “cellaring.” You put a beer away in a cool dark place – just like you would cellar a wine.
Tip: While you might lay a wine bottle on its side, store your cellared beer standing upright.
What beers age well?
Beers with higher alcohol content and big bold flavors are the best for aging. Aging will help mellow out the alcohol to let the malt and flavors of the beer shine through. You can cellar stouts, barley wines and imperial-style beers. You’ll find they just get better with age. Buy one now and put it away for a special night during the winter months.
Many breweries are pushing the boundaries on their cellar programs and you can find beers on the market that have been aged in-house before distribution. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of doing it yourself at home.
So whether you reach for a super fresh beer out of a growler or a bourbon stout that’s been cellared for five years, follow these tips so you can be certain your beer tastes its best.
Tamre Mullins, shown, is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server from Indianapolis, Ind . She has spent the last 12 years as an advocate for the craft beer industry. Tamre shares her knowledge through volunteering for breweries, teaching classes and writing for various craft beer publications around the country.