When does Beer expire?

My mind has been going around in circles involving the Beer expiration date story that was published last week. Aside from the arrogance of some of the beer companies in regard to the consumers right to know, I felt as if there was something a bit off in the articles premise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, some beer companies (not all) print either the expiration date or the creation date on each bottle in such a way that makes it difficult for consumers to read. Oftentimes the dates are encoded in such a way that only those people “in the know” can understand how to decipher the label.

Because of this, I’m deducting popularity points to the various beer companies who partake in this sort of behavior.

But G. Bruce Knecht, the writer of the piece, has a faulty premise in his article, implying that every beer is equal. The clues within his articles arise when he starts talking about the shelf life of each beer. Coors has an expiration date of 112 days, while Anchor Steam (whose president comes off looking badly in the writing) has a shelf life of a year, at least if one is to believe their spokesman in the article.

Why the discrepancy of 253 days between the two beers? Is Anchor trying to pull something over the eyes of the consumer?

The answers to these questions come down to the beers themselves. Consider the following:

Fresh beer doesn’t really taste that good. Much like many fermenting beverages, beers need time to mature. In the cases of lagers, the time frame towards maturation is measured in weeks. For some porters and stouts, the time frame can be measured in months and years. Typically the more complex the beer in regard to its flavors, the more time is needed to mature. Once a beer hits that time, it’s considered its peak time for drinking.

Coors and Budweiser want to highlight how fresh their beer is because it takes their beer a shorter period of time to mature than more complex beers. Anchor, on the hand, doesn’t want you to know the expiration date, because when the expiration date is compared against a Budweiser, consumers now have the mindset that newer equates to better, when that’s not necessarily the case.

Or to put it another way, a fresher beer doesn’t always mean a better beer. The major breweries have simply convinced us otherwise.

Of course all of this could be settled if each brewer would put a “peak consumption date” on the bottle instead of an “expiration” or “bottled on” date. But does anyone ask me my opinion?


Update: Read this.

Update II: A Brewer responds

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