It happens to the best of us. You find the delicious beer you hid from your housemate at the back of the cupboard and then promptly forgot about. The initial frisson of excitement, much like finding an unexpected fiver in your jeans pocket, gives way to doubt as you notice the sell by date has long since passed.
So… should you drink it?
Can I Drink Out of Date Beer?
The general consensus is that drinking out of date beer is OK. But I’d take a couple of precautionary steps before sipping that old brew.
Don’t drink the beer if:
- The can or bottle has been compromised
- The beer smells really bad
- There’s funny looking stuff floating around (not just the usual yeast or sediment)
Aside from noticing any of the above, you should be fine!
A beer that has completely fermented as is in a properly sealed container shouldn’t have any nasties growing in it.
This is because your beer’s alcohol content, limited supply of sugars and low levels of oxygen stop most spoilage bacteria and fungi growing.
The question that remains, however, will drinking the beer be worth it?
How Long Does Beer Last?
Each brewery will normally have their preferred storage life, which they use to calculate a “best before” date on their beers. This is normally anywhere between 3 and 12 months after the bottling date.
The beer style, however, will have a massive impact on when the beer will taste its best.
All beers will deteriorate over time leading to changes in their flavour, aroma, colour and carbonation levels.
But certain styles age better than others – and some will even taste better after ageing!
Rules of thumb when deciding when to drink out of date beers:
- High alcohol beers will age better
- Highly hopped beers are always better fresh – hop flavours come from relatively unstable compounds which deteriorate over time causing the flavour to fade
- Darker and bottle conditioned beers age better
It’s always best to use the beer style and bottling date to work out when you should drink your beers by.
Here’s a rough guide to knowing when to drink your beer for the best experience:
- Light, session and hoppy beers: Max 1 to 3 months after bottling
- Pale ales: 3 months after bottling
- Red/amber ales and stouts: 6 months after bottling
- Imperial stouts, porters, sours: up to 12 months after bottling (although you can really experiment with ageing strong, dark beers. Much like you can with red wine)
Storing your beer in the correct conditions will also help keep your beer tasting its best!
What Are The Best Storage Conditions?
Once you’ve got your precious beer home it has three main enemies – light, heat and oxygen.
- Light: And more specifically UV light, can penetrate even the darkest of bottles. Once in, UV is absorbed by the aromatic compounds imparted to your beer through the addition of hops. This leads to the creation of a “skunky” smell and taste to your beer.
- Oxygen: Exposure to oxygen results in the breakdown of flavour molecules and the production of a range of undesirable flavours including cardboard, butter and sherry.
- Heat: Excess heat leads to an acceleration of oxidation and can reduce the life of your beer even further!
How to Store Craft Beer
There are a couple of steps you can take to keep your beer as fresh as possible.
Always keep your beers:
- At a constant temperature
- In the dark
- Stored upright
Buying beer in cans can also slow the reduction in quality as they reduce exposure to oxygen and light.
Depending on the style of beer you have, you can store them at different temperatures to best preserve their qualities:
- Light, hoppy beers: 7 to 10 °C
- IPAs and stouts: 10 to 12 °C
- Imperial stouts and porters: 12 to 16 °C
Here at hoppist, we understand that most people don’t have access to 3 fridges!
We always recommend that you keep your beers upright and in the fridge.
Try not to put them in the door compartments, as this has the least consistent temperatures and highest exposure to light!
Remember to take your beers out of the fridge 10 minutes before you serve them – read our blog How to Taste Beer Like You Know What You’re Doing to find out why!