Updated: Jul 16, 2021
YOU'VE WORKED YOUR TAIL OFF ALL WEEK. YOU DESERVE A BEER. You make your way to your favorite grog shop where you plan on spending your hard-earned money on some delicious independent craft beer. The choices are endless. After wandering the aisle for 10 minutes you finally make up your mind and go home and pour yourself a glass, only to find that you are feeling a bit underwhelmed with your selection. Having just dropped close to $20 on 4 beers, you curse the beer gods but reluctantly force down the rest. After all...20 bucks is 20 bucks.
Sound familiar? It happens a lot, and it's totally avoidable. We're going to show you five ways to know if your beer is skunked, and what you can do about it. Let's count them down shall we?
5. USE YOUR SCHNOZ
You know what freshness smells like. If you pop that top and it smells like wet cardboard instead of hops...there's a problem. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) describes oxidized beer as demonstrating “Any one or a combination of stale, winy/vinous, cardboard, papery, or sherry-like aromas and flavors.”
Now, we aren't saying you need to be a certified Cicerone, after all, drinking beer should be casual and fun, not a science project, but your instincts are usually going to be correct. If you buy a beer with Vanilla in it (purely an example 😉) and you can't even sense a hint of Vanilla, you may be drinking old beer. If it walks like a duck...well you know.
4. CHECK FOR "BATH BUBBLES"
Remember taking a bubble bath as a kid and grabbing a handful of suds and blowing them off of your hand, watching them fly away like dandelions?
Oxidized bubbles tend to lack uniformity, and they don't hold up for long. They may also peak or dome in the center or recede from the edges, leaving a small channel around the rim, similar to milk foam on a latte, and they tend to lack structure and weight.
A fresh beer should have a nice thick, lacey, consistent head. How long it persists may vary by style and its age, and is also influenced by glass type and glass cleanliness, so don't be too quick to judge.
3. LOOK FOR DISCOLORATION
This one can be a bit tougher and should be used to support one of the other four indicators because there is some subjectivity here.
Do you have a favorite go-to beer that is typically filtered clear but then all of a sudden has a sight haze to it? Is the color noticeably darker than usual? Those can be symptoms of old beer. Accompanying the change in appearance is almost always a change in flavor, such as exaggerated malt character, and a hop aroma that has been replaced with that of stale crackers.
Ever had a stout with a bleach-white head? Hopefully not. Malts lend color to beer and the color of the head is typically consistent with the style. Lagers have a white head, pale ales have a tan head, and so on and so forth all the way up the color spectrum. If the head looks off for the style, that could be a sign. As with all things there are exceptions to this rule, so try not to blow up our DMs unless you're sure something is off. 😛
2. TALK TO EMPLOYEES
Find out what products are selling and how often they get them in. Something flying off the shelf isn't likely going to sit around long enough to get stale. Store employees also might be able to collect and relay customer feedback that can help you make an informed purchasing decision.
1. CHECK DATE CODES
This is the easiest thing you can do. Flip the cans upside down and check out the date on the bottom. Try to find something that is no more than 90 days old, but less than that is preferable. Some breweries use best-before dates, while others use package dates, also known as the "genesis date", which happens to be what we use. You may see it abbreviated as "BB Date", "Born On" or something similar. Some breweries actually use internal codes that can't be deciphered on the shelf so don't feel terrible if you can't make the date out. Long story short, the younger the beer, the better... unless it's meant to be matured like a barrel aged stout similar to those in our 4Seasons Program.
You should also consider that different styles of beer age faster than others, so you don't have to be as discriminate about an imperial stout or a filtered blonde ale as you do a Hazy IPA, for example, which tends to lose its aroma much more quickly.
DISCLAIMER: This is not fool-proof. There are instances where code dates aren't available due to equipment malfunction, or possibly even that the brewery doesn't code date at all.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
There are a few simple things you can do to help fight against old beer.
Buy beer from craft-centric high volume accounts - Got a retailer near you that has 15 cooler doors of macro lager and a warm shelf of craft? Probably not the best place to buy beer. C'mon man!
Speak to store managers or shop owners about beer freshness - Explain to them why you buy certain brands and why it's important to you. They want happy customers so put the pressure on them to deliver!
Report bad beer at the place of purchase - Take the product back and ask them to swap it out for a like-product. If your favorite shop doesn't stand by their products, you probably shouldn't be shopping there.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Shelf stability in beer is an elusive thing that all brewers try to achieve. It's our mission to bring folks the freshest beer possible and to ensure that our network of wholesalers and retailers share that objective. Using the above-mentioned tips will allow you to be a more informed and discerning consumer, and in turn forces everyone else thats part of that chain to perform, and that's good for everybody.
Knowledge is power.
Questions or concerns about beer freshness or quality? Visit our support page.