It’s seems as if there is mucho confusion when it comes beer expiration dates, and this has lead to some debate. Let me clarify some points I made.
Firstly, I stick by the following statement I made in my previous post: a fresher beer doesn’t always mean a better beer. The major breweries have simply convinced us otherwise. All beers are not equal and should not be judged by the practices of macro-breweries.
A beer can be aged in two ways – either prior to bottling or within the bottle itself. If it ages in the bottle, it’s called “bottled conditioned”. Whether the beer is bottled conditioned is determined by the brewery and (to a lesser extent) the type of beer they are producing. Bottle conditioned beer does mature in the bottle and tastes better after it has had time to mature in the bottle. As the alt.beer.faq states ” (bottle conditioned beer) will continue to age in the bottle, and the character of the beer will change over time. For some kinds of beer this is good, for others it means they will spoil after a while.” This was the kind of beer I was refering to in the previous post.
However, most beers are pasteurized. Typically in these cases, the beer is aged prior to pasteurization. Again, the length of time of aging depends upon the brewery and the kind of beer brewed. A pasteurized beer is most likely at it’s peak immediately after bottling and then does start to degrade. Exposure to oxygen is not a good thing for beer, and it’s also unavoidable during the bottling process.
How a beer degrades after it’s peak depends on several other variables. Temperature variations over the life span of an unconsumed bottle, how much light and what kind of light the beer is exposed to (both before bottling and afterward), even the color of the glass that the beer is bottled all affect the taste of the beer. Different brands and different types of beer react differently to them, but it’s generally considered good practice to prevent massive fluctuations of any of these variables.
Getting back to the initial point of the article, putting expiration dates on bottles is a good thing, one in which Mr. Knecht was correct in pointing out. However, without educating the his readers on the hows and whys of brewing, he painted the entire industry under one giant brush, when the reality is that different breweries, different beers, and different brewing techniques require different standards. Comparing a Coors against an Anchor in regard to a beer’s lifespan is akin to comparing a TV dinner against a homemade version of the same meal.