So, your friends are coming over this weekend. You’re checking your beer supply only to find out that they’re already past the best-by date. You’re wondering if it’s safe to serve expired beers to your guests.
Despite its unrivaled popularity among other alcoholic beverages, there are a lot of misconceptions around beer—does beer go bad? Does beer need to be refrigerated?
If you find yourself in the same situation, you’re not alone. Many people do. Fear not. In this article, we share some useful information on beer’s shelf life, its optimal storage conditions, and common signs of going bad. Are you ready to take notes? Read on!
How To Store Beer
Beer is undoubtedly one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world. It’s brewed from malted cereal grains (mostly barley) and flavored with hops.
Most commercially-prepared beers contain 4 to 6% alcohol by volume. There are countless varieties of beer out there—ale, pale ale, lager, stout, pilsner, lambic, to say the least.
In terms of storage, it slightly depends on whether the beer is pasteurized or unpasteurized. Most large-scale breweries pasteurize their beers to prolong the shelf life. Meanwhile, craft beers from your local breweries might not be pasteurized.
Beer has three enemies: heat, light, and oxygen. Whether it’s canned or bottled, unopened beers should be kept at a cool, dry, dark place, out of heat and lights. Unpasteurized beers should be kept chilled.
Pick a spot with steady temperatures. Each specific type of beer usually requires different temperatures.
As a rule of thumb, the stronger and higher the alcohol content, the higher the chances that it can stand at a higher temperature, closer to room temperature. To make it less complicated, most standard beers keep well at 50 to 55 °F (10 to 12.8 °C).
The ideal storage would be a beer cellar or beer cooler. But, not everybody has such a dedicated space. In most cases, you can keep it in the pantry, a dark cupboard, or in the fridge.
Place the bottles upright to slow down the oxidation process. This way, you can keep them a little longer.
A quick note—beer doesn’t like light, let alone direct sunlight. Excess light deteriorates the flavor, and you’ll end up with the so-called skunked beer.
While beers in cans and keg are less affected by light, bottled beers are more susceptible to it. If bottled beers are your top choice, consider getting beers in dark bottles to block the light.
Beer is best enjoyed fresh, right away after you crack it open. The carbonation starts to dissipate immediately, leaving a flat and less palatable beer. If you can’t drink up a bottle, keep it sealed and chilled in the refrigerator.
How Can You Tell If Beer Has Gone Bad?
There are a lot of possibilities causing beer to go bad. It has gone through a long way from the factory to your home. As mentioned earlier, beer is sensitive to heat, air, and light. So, prolonged exposure to these factors is certainly detrimental to your beer supply.
Let’s start with unopened beers. If by any chance, the bottle or the can is damaged or leaked, the beer might have spoiled.
If the bottle looks perfectly fine, the next thing to do is to unscrew it. If it lacks in foam when poured or it doesn’t make that distinct sound, that’s an indicator that the carbonation has gone away and the beer has passed its prime.
Now, take a good whiff. If the beer smells funky or somewhat musky, it has gone ‘skunky’! Skunked beer is what most people associate with bad beer. Truth to be told, some people actually enjoy this potent odor.
When beers are exposed to lights, chemical reactions release some sulfur compounds from the hops. Beers in green and clear bottles are more prone to this risk than ones in brown bottles.
If everything seems fine, give it a taste test. At this point, it’s really your decision, depending on how well you can handle the flat or nasty flavors.
Generally speaking, when beer tastes like wet cardboard, cabbage, sewage, or horribly sour, that’s a clear sign that the beer is no longer fresh.
How Long Does Beer Last?
As much as you want it, beer doesn’t last forever. Beer has significantly lower alcohol content compared to wine and hard liquors. Hence, it has a limited shelf life, compared to wine, vodka, or whiskey.
Most commercial beers are usually pasteurized. This heat treatment effectively kills microorganisms, including harmful bacteria. This type of beer is typically best to drink within a few months after the production date.
The exact shelf life varies depending on beer styles, alcohol content, and storage conditions. Commercial brands, like Heineken, claim that their products stay fresh for at least 6 months.
Craft beers are usually unpasteurized due to the high cost and limited distribution. Unpasteurized beers have a shorter lifespan and should be enjoyed within 3 months after production.
|Beer||Cool, dark place (cellar/ pantry)||Refrigerator|
|Beer (canned, bottled)(unopened)||4 to 6 months||6 to 8 months|
|Beer (canned, bottled) (opened)||–||1 to 2 days|
|Unpasteurized craft beer||–||3 months|
This table is only a rough estimate for maximum freshness. It’s worth spending extra minutes checking the beer before pouring it.
Provided that the bottle is perfectly sealed and appropriately stored, feel free to drink it. Check if it’s still fresh. Otherwise, you’re at risk of drinking skunked or flat beer. If you have unpasteurized beer from your local breweries, it’s better not to drink if it’s expired.
It’s not likely that you’ll get sick of food poisoning from old, expired beer. Old beer might suffer from flavor loss, or for the worst case, you’ll experience an upset stomach.
Prolonged exposure to heat is a big no-no for your beer supply. But, rest assured that your beers are likely fine if you accidentally left them for a few hours in the car. However, that’s not the case if the beers are warmed up for days in the car.
As much as you wish your beer supply to last forever, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Beer has a limited shelf life for a few months to nine months. Beer slowly ages with time, affecting its flavor and taste. Not to mention, if it’s poorly stored—such as being exposed to sunlight.
Beer is meant to be enjoyed fresh. In case you can’t finish the bottle, seal it back, and keep it chilled. Leftover beer should be enjoyed within a day or two before it loses the carbonation.
Beer eventually goes bad—in terms of quality. If it lacks in foam, smells skunky, tastes sour or like wet cardboard, it undoubtedly has gone south, and it’s no longer drinkable.
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