3 September 2017

Want a date? Yes we do!

Legible Dates make me smile.
Great Lakes Octopus wants to Fight drank 2 days after canning last week!
  I work in a grocery store and few things matter more than customer service and  the freshness of what we sell. We are vigilant in monitoring our products to make sure consumers get what they pay for and while most best before dates are early warnings of when the food or drink should be consumed by for optimal flavour and nutrition, they also help people decide whether to purchase a product or not.
  If only it were so simple for our beer.
  So many craft breweries have opened in the last couple of years and a lot of them have begun listing their beer at the liquor and grocery stores without proper date codes. Smudged, illegible or just plain missing, it was a shock to many folks I work with to see this almost negligent omission taking place. Putting the question to my fellow beer nerds on social media, I discovered they didn't want a best before date as much as a canned/bottled on one. "Let us decide if we want to buy based on when it was produced and we are good to go," most said. A lot of them adding that a best before was often arbitrarily decided by the brewer. My novice craft beer friends reach out all the time and ask me how old a beer is too old and how to tell the difference when the codes are missing or unreadable. Of course, storage, temperature and light all play a factor in how long our beer lasts and we all know too well about the famous warm shelf storage plan of our local merchants.
Brimstone gets it

  Craft beer is far more susceptible to age than their macro counterparts due mostly to their lack of pasteurization and filtering. To put it simply, they use only all natural ingredients without the benefit or downfall of more processing and that leaves them vulnerable to mishandling, improper storage and neglect. The education of the people selling our beer is just as important as helping the consumer understand what are best ways to keep it at optimal conditions. This, along with proper inventory control (first in, first out) and storage from source to home would go a long way to enhancing the viability of every beer sold. No one intentionally sells sub standard beer (I hope) but far too many brewers/retailers don't give enough attention to the fact that it only takes one bad experience to send an inquisitive macro beer drinker headed right back to that over produced but consistent swill. An educated public will demand more transparency from their beer makers, rewarding those who take care to ensure their products' freshness and punishing those who treat them like they have no idea what they are talking about.
Easy to read and right up front. Good Job Block 3

  I am not an expert in many things, but I understand that the fresher your beer, the better it will taste. A window of a few months for some styles (Lagers) to longer, think years, for others (some Stouts/brett beers) leaves many people new to craft beer being overwhelmed and unsure about what to buy and when to drink them. Why we can't help with simple guidelines for most styles is beyond me. We have the science and knowledge of hundreds of years of commercial brewing and yet some breweries still keep quiet about when their products should be consumed by or even when they were canned. I understand there is a cost associated with dating every can or bottle and for many small micro breweries that are just starting, every penny is being poured into making better beer. I am okay with that, most people who drop into one are getting the freshest of beer, with a few exceptions (you know who you are). They can also usually engage in a conversation with someone at the brewery who usually understands beer and will explain to them freshness and storage if they ask.
  I still think an industry standard of clear and concise labels without insider jargon or codes and in the same spot on every can/bottle (Muskoka, Great Lakes and Beau's are really good examples) would go a long way to helping alleviate this problem. I can't think of another consumable product that isn't required to at least have a legible date of production on it and if we want to keep bringing converts to the good side of beer, we need to advocate for better transparency in our labels. Is there a nefarious dumping of old product and an intentional lack of clear stamping going on? Maybe, but I really hope not. I know that I saw a lot of really questionable dates or none at all on some of the product that first appeared in my grocery store. Without proper training, how would your average retail worker be able to distinguish or answer questions from people who want to try something new.
  The big picture requires a rethinking of how we sell, label and store our beer. The lack of a direction from government should not be the deciding factor in this case, I'd like to think craft brewers are ahead of the curve in many ways. I understand that every beer is different and with the proliferation of adventurous brewers and their amazing creativity, we are pushing the bounds of what we knew about everything in brewing. But to ask for a clear date of canning/bottling isn't much and is the first step in helping eradicate stale beer. Getting retailers and brewers on board with proper storage (i.e. the end of "shelf aging") is also paramount and an educated public completes the trio. I know it isn't easy to give a true best before date for every style and I am aware of the cost of making sure every bottle or can is dated, but I think as the industry grows and more people join the revolution, all these factors will begin to matter. Lets strive to give people at least an idea of how long a beer has been sitting there for and let them decide for themselves if they want to purchase it. A handy guide/poster or web page on a craft brewers site (Check out Muskoka's) would go a long way to helping us to understand our beer even better. 
  Maybe I'm tilting at windmills here but I want to think that it matters to the people that make the beer and those of us who drink it that we are getting the best representation of what the brewer intended every single time we pour it in our glass. Let's hope the future brings a world where everyone drinks better beer and knows it.
  One last thing, try not to overbuy. Please. Drink your beer fresh and get more later. There is no need to hoard it. Life's too short to wait and a beer wasted is the saddest story I know. As I always tell people, "Drink your damn beer!"

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.


P.S.  - My own personal timeline is pretty simple, I store all my beer either in the fridge or cellar, depending on space, but keep the temp consistent. Beer is best kept cool and constant.
As for how long before they start to lose their freshness, it depends on the style but this is what I generally try to do if I am practicing good fridge management.

IPAs/Pale Ales/Sours/Gose/Saison(most) - 3 Months (still good for a few more, but they tend to lose that juicy, tropical note and become more malty or bitter)

High ABV Stouts/Brett  Beers - 6 months to a few years. Check with the brewer about how long they think you should age these beers. Some require time to really mature and become what they were intended to be.

Everything else - 6 months tops. I drank some year old lager the other night and it was less than enjoyable. Pilsners, Kolsch style ales and the like shouldn't sit there too long.

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