The 5 Rules for Keeping Your Beer Fresh & Drinkable
As much as we wish it could, beer doesn’t last forever. As Stone Brewing explains, "flavor- and aroma-producing oils and acids in hops deteriorate with exposure to time, air, light or warm temperatures." So, on the rare occasions when you don't drink all your beer in one sitting, you're left with a difficult question: how do you ensure your beer tastes just as good the next time you drink it? For answers, we turned to Julia Herz from the Brewers Association.
1. Not all beers age the same, so know what you’re drinking
Unfortunately, there’s no real timeline for when a certain beer will age into the “not fresh” category. But there are a few good rules of thumb you can use to know whether you should be worried about a beer's freshness or if you can stash it and still have a delicious beer one year down the road.
First, check the ABV: if it’s higher than 8%, you generally don’t need to worry about rushing to drink it (more on cellaring beer later!).
Next, check the style. If it’s a sour or a smoked beer, then it falls into the same category as high-alcohol beers. However, if it’s an IPA or another hop-centric beer, like amber lagers, American pale ales, or American strong ales, you’re holding a beer that’ll age quickly (IMPORTANT: this even includes some of those 8+ percenters that fall into these styles!). Herz says these should be consumed fresh because of their hop aromatics, which add to the distinctive flavor of the beer and fade over time.
Lastly, look for pasteurization. Herz points out that most craft breweries in America don't pasteurize their beers, so their shelf-life is shorter than mass-produced lagers, which are pasteurized.
2. If it’s not going into storage, drink the beer within three months of the bottling date
At least if you’re holding an unpasteurized beer. Can't tell when the beer you're holding was brewed? Check out FreshBeerOnly.com, which will educate you on how to find a bottling or packaging date on a ton of breweries' cans and bottles.
For pasteurized beer, well, you've got more time than a few months. In a course that Herz and Chef Adam Dulye taught about food and beer, they cited research from MillerCoors that stated that "storing beer in the following conditions will result in equivalent flavor loss: 1) 3 days in the trunk of a hot car (90 F), 2) 30 days at room temperature (71 F), and 3) 300 days in the refrigerator (33 F)." Which means you have almost an entire year to drink that can of pasteurized beer before it goes bad! Also, if you can't find time to drink a can of beer in 300 days, maybe beer isn't your thing.
3. During those three months, keep the beer in the fridge
As soon as beer is made, the aging process starts. The best way to elongate its lifespan is to go ahead and throw it in the fridge as soon as you bring it home -- even if you don’t plan to drink it until two months later. "Store your precious beer cold (38 degrees F) until it's ready to drink," advises Herz. "Think of beer like bread or milk. It will advance, but when stored cold (not room temperature) that advancing of flavors and oxidation is slowed down."
4. If you don't have fridge space, store it in a dark place, along with your high-ABVers
Warm temperatures aren’t the only threat to your beer. "Store [the beer] away from sunlight and fluorescent light so it does not ‘skunk’," says Herz. While they lack the regulated cold temperatures of fridges, a basement (they do get bonus points for being relatively cool!), under a bed, or a closet are all good choices for elongating your beer's life.
And luckily, you should have already found that place when you realized you did not need to rush to drink your beers that are higher than 8%, sour, or smoked. Patrick Dawson, author of the book Vintage Beer, says, "high alcohol, acidity, or smoke phenols each essentially act as a preservative, which slows the aging of a beer." He's also picked out some beers worth aging, if you want to try it yourself. Hint: you do!
5. Store your beer upright
Wherever you store it, make sure the beer isn't lying down. Keeping the beer upright minimizes the amount of the beer’s surface area that will be touching the air trapped in the bottle. As Craft Beer Academy concisely explains, “less air contact = less oxidation of the beer,” which means you’re preventing it from breaking down more quickly.
And, now that you know how to ensure your beer is as drinkable as possible, go enjoy your not-skunked, not-stale beer.