Friday, March 14, 2014

Experimenting with Beer Freshness

Over the last few years I've noticed more and more drinkers only wanting to drink the freshest beer possible.  If a beer doesn't have a bottled on date, there is a good chance these connoisseurs of freshness will pass on the dateless beer and go with something else they wouldn't typically prefer, simply because they want freshness guaranteed. Then there was me. I was always aware that hops can break down and lose their potency over time, but I had serious doubts that I needed to go out of my way to check the dates on my 6-pack. We’re talking about excellent beers made by reputable breweries so why shouldn't I trust that their beer would still be top quality as little as 3 months later?

With that question in mind, I set out to Heavy Seas Brewery with Deana and Oliver Gray of Literature & Libation (check out his reaction to our experiment here) to see if we could determine a difference between fresh beer and a beer nearing the end of its “best by” window. The new beer was Heavy Seas Loose Canon, kegged on February 17th and sampled 5 days later on February 22nd. The older bottle of Loose Canon was purchased on November 12th, 2013 and stored in my basement until the February 22nd tasting. The idea was simple. We’d look at each beer, sniff ‘em, and then taste the beers noting any differences. Oliver and I were to act as the experienced drinker and Deana represented the casual drinker in our attempt to discern if it took an experienced palate to pull out differences between the old and new beer.

Long story short, it was painfully obvious that freshness matters.  The bottled beer seemed to take on a sweeter malty profile in both aroma and flavor. The hops were there, but as Deana put it, everything about the bottled Loose Canon seemed to be muddled.  Good,yes, but muddled.  The fresh beer, on the other hand, was where it was at. It wouldn't matter if it was the first beer you've ever had or your 1 millionth, the difference was staggering. The aroma of the new beer evoked smells I've experienced as a homebrewer opening up a brand new package of hops. For those of you who have never ever homebrewed, there is an earthiness about hops that seemed to be lost over time with the old beer. Where taste is concerned, the fresh hops in the newer beer also improved the overall drinking experience. The earthiness I referenced in regards to hop aroma also helped enhance the flavor. Instead of a beer with muddled flavor, you had a drink with distinct malt and hop presence. Even the mouthfeel of the fresh beer was different as you could notice the hops prickling your taste buds with each sip.

This experiment has changed the way I’ll drink hoppy beers from here on out. It’s not that the older beer was bad. It’s just that the newer beer tasted so much more alive. The fresh earthy features the hops provided the newer Loose Canon made for an incredibly inviting drink. Brewers go to incredible lengths creating recipes that showoff all that hops have to offer and it’s on us as consumers to make sure we’re buying the beer when it’s at its peak. I don't think I'll ever buy a beer, especially an IPA, without checking dates again. From here on out, when I'm shopping for beer my rules for buying beer are simple. Buy fresh beer. Buy local beer. Drink Happy.


  1. One of the biggest pains in my ass when it comes to beer is labeling "bottled on" dates. Often, that may influence if I buy one beer over another. When it comes to IPAs, that's especially important, as you guys found out.

    1. The fact that there is no consensus is a pain. Bottled On, Best By, Julian Dating, etc. It's all so confusing to the customer.

  2. I think there is a lot of truth to this article, however, I would be remiss if I didn't chime in on some of the people out there who are "aging" beers purposefully to change the characteristic flavors.

    It seems the best beers for this are High ABV, Sours, and Imperial style ales, stouts, etc. I've been experimenting with verticals of yearly releases. Some are good, some are definitely not. With a beer like Loose Cannon at 7.25%, I'd say there's not a good chance it's going to age well. However, I've had aged Hopslam (10%) that has turned almost into a sweet honey flavored Barleywine as the hops have faded over time. One of the best beers I've had was a 2006 Left Hand Smoke Jumper Rauchbier that I sampled on Christmas of 2013. at 7 years old, this beer was thick and barely had any carbonation left, but what was left was the outstanding flavors of Rich Smoked Malts reminiscent of the famed Smoke Beers of Bamberg Germany. One sip and I was transported to the little restaurant next door to Schlenkerla eating a big thick cut of Schauferla. It was outstanding.

    Again, I agree, freshness does matter with the bulk of beer (See Stone's Enjoy By series) but there is a segment where the length of age can improve beer as well.