Recently, I was doing some rearranging of the beer fridge. Actually, it is just our regular fridge but is regularly filled primarily with beer, cheese and various mustards.
I was placing a recently acquired pumpkin imperial stout in the back with other beers I leave to age when I saw a crowler that appeared to be out of place.
Pushed off the back edge of the shelf, leaning against the back wall, was a Bagby Beer Company “Three Beagles” English-style brown ale; date filled 1/3/21. Whoops.
Crowlers (tall cans filled with beer from the draft line) are not generally sealed as effectively as cans, and my hopes for a delicious tasting beer weren’t high.
I’ve always operated under the assumption that crowlers should be drunk in a few days, a week at the outset. I’ve seen varying recommendations, but never more than a few weeks.
I brought the Three Beagles with me to a beer sampling event with the guys from the I Like Beer the Podcast and cracked it open.
To all of our surprise, it was quite lovely. Nearly as enjoyable as if I had just purchased it fresh, with only maybe a slight loss of carbonation, which led me to wonder about beer freshness.
I decided to ask some local brewing experts their thoughts on the subject.
Cheers: Does freshness matter when drinking a barrel-aged beer, and is there ever a time when a barrel-aged beer, say a stout, is too old to drink?
Kyle Harrop, owner & brewer at Horus Aged Ales: “I think barrel-aged clean beer (barleywines, stouts, etc.) with adjuncts (chocolate, coconut, coffee, maple syrup, vanilla, among others) should be drank as fresh as possible.
On the other hand, I think those types of beers without adjuncts can get even better with time and I’ve had numerous that were in the bottle over a decade that still tasted great. Also, I’ve had barrel-aged sour beer, lambic, in particular, that was half a century old and it still tasted amazing.”
Cheers: Specifically regarding IPAs and pale ales, why is freshness so important, and does what I refer to as the “hazy trend” impact that traditional peak freshness level for hoppy beers?
Anthony Tallman, head brewer & owner, Burgeon Beer Co: “Hoppy beers in general, regardless of Pale Ale, IPA, Hazy or Double, they all need to be treated like a perishable product. The temperature at which they are stored and the duration at which they may sit on a shelf has a major impact on how that beer can taste and smell.
I feel that it is often overlooked, not just by the consumer, but by the retailers, that specifically hoppy beer should be stored cold and drunk fresh.
Now everyone’s opinion on what “fresh” means can vary and the duration in which a hoppy beer will taste and smell how that brewery intended, is based on how well that beer is processed and packaged.”
Cheers: When working with high-quality ingredients does that impact the window at which beer might be at its peak level of freshness?
Nate dela Paz, QA/QC manager, Pure Project: For hoppy beers, the window isn’t impacted per se, but if you take a beer with lower quality ingredients (hops, malt, etc.), the freshness won’t be there to begin with, hop aromatics won’t be as great and off-aromas or off-flavors may be more prevalent.
Winslow Sawyer, head brewer & co-founder, Pure Project: People should drink fresher beer in general. Most IPA I find in stores is around two months old, and I think IPAs expire after 3-4 weeks. As for bottled beers, we only bottle beer that can be cellared for years to come.
Cheers: if there was one thing you’d like customers to know about beer freshness…what would that be?
Sawyer: Drink canned beer as close to the canning date on the label as possible. Hoppy beer is very delicate and should be refrigerated at all times, avoid warm storing it if at all possible.
I think I just got a little lucky with this crowler this time. The beer spirits were shining down, and that particular corner of the fridge especially cold.
I reached out to the team at Bagby Beer to ask their thoughts on why this brown still tasted so good, but we weren’t able to connect this week. Look for their thoughts in a future column! Until then. Check your “packaged by” or “born-on” or date-filled indicators on your next beer purchase.