I have to do it. Every time. I flip over the six pack. I turn the box around. I hold a bottle up to the light. I look for a packaged-on date every single time I consider buying a beer. I got curious how obsessed everyone else was as well, so this week we asked the Fervent Few how important dates are when it comes to buying beer at the store.
Tim Coe: “It depends, for me, on where I’m buying. The grocery store in my neighborhood will hold onto bottles forever until they sell, often kept warm. If I’m buying anything with a hop profile there, I’ll definitely check to see whether it was packaged in recent history. But if I’m at a store where booze is their business (Binny’s or BevMo or whathaveyou), I don’t usually check the dates before purchasing.”
Manny Gumina: “I don't usually check dates because, frankly, many of the beers don't have easily decipherable package dates. I usually purchase based on different factors for freshness. If it's in the fridge, I'll buy. If it is on an unrefrigerated shelf, it requires further investigation. If there is dust on the bottle, I'm out.”
Caldwell Bishop: “I’ve started checking dates and won’t buy IPAs that have been sitting for a couple months or more. If they don’t have dates and I know it’s a new release I’ll buy it, otherwise I pass. I didn’t care about this or pay attention to it in the past, but have been burned a few too many times by less-than-pleasant months-old IPAs. But for other styles I still don’t pay much attention to it. It’s interesting to me to see how the beers taste, especially if I’ve had it fresh for a point of comparison.”
Brandon Morreale: “I don't think getting an ULTRAFRESHIE is really that important, but I will try to keep it under two months if possible. Luckily, the market keeps the better IPAs and Pale Ales turning over quickly, but there's always that one six pack that sneaks past you and suddenly you're drinking a six-month-old Belgian IPA that tastes like malted hairspray. Not all is lost, though—they make great a great bath for brats.”
Rob Cartwright: “I live near a liquor store we refer to as the 'land of misfit beers.' Lots of out-of-date stuff sold really cheap. Not such a big deal on the dark side of things, but if it's an IPA, they've trained me to always, always check the date. Not sure why more brewers don't provide some guidance—packed-on or best-by dates aren't perfect, but they are helpful.”
Barnabas Schickling: “Coming from a grocery perspective, the only thing I check dates on are hoppy beers. I like to drink them within about two months or so of can date. On the flip side, however, I've had some Stone beers that were past date that tasted great still.”
Francesca Slattery: “I constantly check my dates now in a way that I didn't used to, as I've got so many beers home only to find an issue with the taste, and then to see it's near BBE or even out-of-date. I really wish breweries would incorporate packaged-on dates, too, so I can make a judgement call on whether I'll pick up that style of beer. Obviously, IPAs and other very hoppy beers suffer the most from the passage of time (especially if not refrigerated, as mentioned). And I know several instances of breweries who give their IPAs 12 or even 18 months, so heck knows how old it is when I get it, without that packaged-on date.”
Nick Yoder: “Unless it's a seasonal or something I know has been released recently I won't buy anything without a date code. There are a couple exceptions—namely, anything with Brett and Lacto, Imperial Stouts without adjuncts, and smoked beers. Otherwise I'm always checking date codes because I know the stores around me buy way more product than they can actually go through in a timely manner.
Anything hoppy I try to buy with 60 days or less on it, especially because I know I won't drink it all right away. For breweries that I know their quality is outstanding, I'll go up to 90 days. Other styles I'll go out to six months. I've never been huge into the neverending chase for freshness. I think a lot of it is just hype and most drinkers can’t tell a difference between a day-old IPA and a month-old IPA. In fact, I feel like a lot of IPAs actually need a couple weeks to become better integrated. But there will always be those consumers out there who would prefer to only buy IPAs canned tomorrow.
On a side note, I've learned that date codes, without adequate knowledge, can be a dangerous thing. Last year my father-in-law brought home some 90 Minute IPA that I knew was old from the first sip. I checked and it was nearing a year at that point. I let him know that he should always check date codes at that store because they tend to sit on product for awhile. What I neglected to tell him was how to find the date codes.
Fast forward to the next time he bought beer for us. He comes back with a case of Bud because, ‘You told me they have a lot of stuff that's not fresh so I figured this had to move quickly and couldn't be old.’ Lesson learned.”
Dave Riddile: “Big fan of the packaged-on date. It's what we do at our brewery, since honestly a best-by date doesn't really apply to our bottle-conditioned stuff. I do have a crazy idea, though, for everyone out there in beerland. Why not both? Packaged-on and best-by. I get that putting the funny little phrases on the bottom of a can are fun, but that line could have your best-by date below the beer’s package date. I'm not hating on fun—just promoting knowledge, which is also fun.”
Tyler Plourd: “Breweries who don't date code should wear dunce caps to next year's CBC. When going into a package store I shouldn't have to guess if the beer is fresh. There is nothing worse than cracking open the first beer from a six pack only to be greeted by dull aromatics, overbearing malt flavors, and oxidation.”
Rob Steuart: “Totally depends on the type of beer. As others have said, with hoppy beers, I'll go through the shelves to grab the ones with the youngest brewed-on date. With things like Stouts and Barleywines, I don't really care. I bought some Brew by Numbers Export Stout with a 2015 brewed-on date and they are drinking awesome. Same with a pack of Sierra Nevada’s 2014 Bigfoot. It's about understanding the beer styles, knowing how they age, and buying appropriately.”
Lana Svitankova: “What I always check is the date on all things hoppy, but just to get frustrated because, at best, you can get BBD. In the Ukraine, it's obligatory to put the produced-on date on beer, so I'm quite happy with that. Otherwise, I don't mind beer BBD, especially if it's something dark and heavy.”
Keith Allen: “This is my bugbear. I ALWAYS check BBE dates on cans and bottles. I'm always looking for the freshest beer when it's a hop-forward one. I've had trouble moving to Ireland, as some beers have longer than 12-month shelf life, and different manufacturers/breweries have different BBE date lengths. An IPA with an 18-month shelf life is utter bullshit. It's damaging to the industry and you only know when you see a fresh one with a BBE longer than a year in advance. Others, you're just guessing. Some breweries like Kinnegar have started packaged-on dates, similarly to Kernel in London which gives me hope and builds my trust in getting a fresh beer that's not been on an ambient shelf for six months.”
John Newhouse: “I absolutely check dates, and I'm a lot less likely to buy a beer if the date format isn't easy to read. I understand Julian coding, but I rarely take the time when the date is in that format. Even as a beer enthusiast, I don't want to spend 45 minutes shopping. Side note: I only care about date codes on certain beer styles (Lagers, Pale Ales, IPAs, Hefs, etc).”
Murray Slater: “This is a form of self-regulation that is much needed here in South Africa. Best-before and brewed-on dates are all too rare. A lack of consumer and retailer education compounds the issue. You can still walk into bottle stores and see beers out of the fridge on display like spirits and wines.”
How fresh do you like your beer? Join the Fervent Few and let’s talk about that, plus anything else your heart desires. We do AMAs with beer celebrities, play the occasional game of trivia, and spend a lot of time geeking out on all sorts of stuff. And not only will you make some new friends, you’ll be supporting all of Good Beer Hunting’s content!