It happened again this weekend. I opened a can of NEIPA from a brewery that has produced a number of beers I enjoyed in the past. I took a quick whiff to check for that pungent burst of hops that made me fall in love with hoppy beers and I got almost nothing. A bigger inhalation confirmed what I feared, I didn’t even need to taste the beer to know that it was well past it’s peak (although the first sip confirmed my suspicions). Every IPA fan knows that letdown, you expect that pungent aroma that gets your mouth watering, but instead you get barely anything and you know the beer is going to be a disappointment. In this case I checked the bottom of the can to see how old the beer was, and the can bottom was blank, no date code anywhere. If the can had a packaged on date that was months old then it would have been my mistake for buying old beer or letting it sit in the fridge too long, but that wasn’t the case. No code might be an excellent and hugely underrated Pearl Jam album, but it is also one of my biggest pet peeves in the world hoppy beer.
So I am done, this weekend was the last straw. If a brewery doesn’t take the time and effort to date code their beer I am not buying it. I hate being the guy checking the bottom of every can before purchase, but it is much better than being the guy dumping out disappointing beer because it is clearly past code. Date codes also show that the brewery cares about their customers always drinking the highest quality version of their product. If the beer isn’t dated how are distributors and bottle shops supposed to know how old it is? I know that many breweries are diligent about freshness, making sure that their partners in retail quickly pull any beer that is past code, but that only works if you know how old the beer in question is. Not including the date codes is a clear sign that the brewery cares more about pinching pennies than about getting the highest quality product into the hands of every customer. It is also short sighted, if a new customer tries an old version of a hoppy beer they probably aren’t trying beer from that brewery again.
Here is what I am looking for in every can of hoppy beer I buy going forward:
- A clear, easy to read date: No tiny fonts, no codes I need to decipher or look up online. If you packaged a beer today than the numbers 02-21-19 should be on the can.
- The date should be on every can: Lots of bottle shops allow the purchase of individual cans, so date stamps on the outside of a 6-pack or 12-pack box or only on one can from a 4-pack are not very helpful. I also keep a wide variety of beers in my fridge and do the best I can to consume them fresh, so it helps to know how old each can of beer is.
- The date printed on the can should be the date the beer was packaged. If it’s a best-by date that should be clearly noted: I’ve seen a few breweries that print just a single date on the cans, but it’s a best-by date not a packaged on date. That can be exceptionally confusing to a consumer trying to determine how fresh the beer is. I know some brewers prefer best-by dates because there is some confusion about the shelf life of different styles (a porter will taste great for much longer than a NEIPA). That is fine as long as the date is clearly designated as a best-by date.
- If you do use a best-by date it should be realistic: A prominent national brewery released their New England Style IPA with a single date code, which represented a date 3 months after the beer was packaged (this was not clearly marked on the can). Assuming proper storage that might be realistic, but I’ve seen giant, room temperature displays of this beer sitting for months at local package and grocery stores. I have done a study that strongly suggests this beer will be well past it’s peak after sitting at room temperature for three months.
- This applies to beer sold at brewery as well as in distribution: Usually the biggest issue with undated beer is distribution, it is impossible to know how long the beer has been sitting on the shelf. Recently I’ve started hearing stories about old beer being sold directly from breweries too, where the brewery was too aggressive in their projected sales and the beer sat around way too long. This is unacceptable for a bunch of reasons, no brewery should be selling old beer to their customers, and declining to date the cans makes it seem deceitful.
- Have fun with it: Lots of breweries have fun with their date stamps, adding funny or topical sayings. It gives the brewery another avenue for creativity and fun!
So, from here on out I am planning on checking every can when I buy hoppy beer, and I will pass on any beer that isn’t clearly dated.
Until I forget.
Which will probably happen the next time I buy beer.
Still, good to put the intention out there.