Most beer bottles and cans label the product with a ‘best before date’ instead of an actual expiration date.
If the ‘best before date’ has passed, it doesn’t mean that the beer has gone bad. The brewer is only providing a recommendation or suggestion as to when is the best time to consume.
If your beer is stored properly, it can be consumed after the ‘best before date’ has passed and taste just fine.
On the other hand, if you store your beer poorly, it’s possible it will taste rotten long before the “best by” date.
Beer Longevity Depends on Storage
Beer may have a longer shelf life than the label indicates. Most people focus on the label to guide them but he answer as to how long beer maintains its shelf life for consumption is complicated.
One important factor is how the brewery maintains its cleanliness. This can make a difference as to the shelf life of beer.
In addition, the storage of beer is also a key component. Storing your beer in direct sunlight is a major cause of quickly skunking beer.
There are three things that we need to take into consideration as it relates to storage conditions: oxygen, light, and heat. Let’s dive in.
Light Exposure During Beer Storage
Your beer will go bad if it is overly exposed to sunlight. Hops are in the ingredients that provide beer with its flavor. In the process of brewing, hops and worts are combined.
When hops are boiled, iso-alpha acids are expelled into the brewing combination. If exposed to sunlight, the acids will be broken down into compounds that link to sulfur-containing proteins.
This creates a chemical, which makes beer smell skunky. To avoid this, brewers often package their beer in brown-colored bottles. If brewers were to use clear glass, the beer would have no protection against the interference of overexposure to light.
This is the reason why you find that beer is packaged in brown glass as opposed to clear glass.
As indicated above, oxygen is one of the factors required, if brewers want to promote the growth of yeast while the beer is being fermented. Typically, brewers will first aerate the beer before putting in the yeast.
Once the yeast is placed into the beer, it will use up the oxygen within the beer and start growing. However, when the fermentation process ends, the oxygen is considered to be a contaminant.
The beverage will spoil upon contact with oxygen and that is why when you open a bottle or can of beer, it should be completely finished or thrown away because it no longer has the same flavor.
The flavor is destroyed when it comes in contact with oxygen over a short period of time. If an unfinished bottle of beer is sealed and exposed to oxygen, it will get stale and oxidize.
The impact will worsen if the beer is exposed to oxygen moving in and out of the beer repeatedly. The effects of oxidation will range from the unwanted flavors, smell, and the darkening discoloration of the beer. The oxidation of beer can be lessened, but only through appropriate storage.
Effect of Bacteria on Beer
Many brewers face the problem of beer going bad due to bacteria. This includes lactic acid and gram-negative bacteria, which produce heavy turbidity and acidity.
This issue tends to be more prevalent in smaller breweries. Small brewers don’t typically have the extensive (and expensive) quality-controlled methods as larger breweries have access to.
Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are two types of bacteria that result in bitter and unpleasant flavors if they come in contact with beer. For example, during the fermentation process, pediococcus reduces the rates of fermentation necessary to maintain the shelf life of beer.
Another thing to mention is that beer will last longer on the shelf if the alcohol content is high. Even when the label shows an expired date, the beer can be consumed because the high alcohol content maintains its flavor and strength. Of course, fresher beer is always better to consume, but expired beer can be consumed and won’t make you sick.
It is also important to remember that you should not confuse infected beer and skunky beer with expired beer. They are two completely different things, which we will look at below.
Infected Beer and Old Beer
Skunky Beer – If beer is infected, it means it has had over exposure to sunlight. You can sense this by how the beer taste. Many enthusiasts don’t mind drinking this type of beer because it won’t make them sick.
Old beer– When beer is slightly oxidized, it is called ‘old beer.’ It has cardboard-like taste or paper-like flavor. It can be consumed, even though; it has the flavor and taste due to its contact with oxygen and trans-2-nonenal compound. When the beer is placed upright, it minimizes surface contact and air from getting into the bottle.
Infected beer – You will know when beer is infected because it will smell dirty. If the brewery does not appropriately clean its draft lines, this will happen. You don’t want to consume this kind of beer or it will make you sick.
How to Properly Store Beer
When you take beer off the shelf after purchasing and you take it home, it is best to store it in a dark refrigerator. If you take it out of the refrigerator for consumption, it is best to finish it because the temperature changes from cold to lukewarm as well as the oxygen exposure starts to age the beer.
It’s also possible to store beer outside of a fridge, but you’ll want to pick a palce that gets no exposure to sunlight and is a consistent, cool temperature.