If you’ve ever discovered a lone, forgotten beer sitting in the back of your fridge, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is this still good?” Maybe you’ve popped it anyways and then realized you shouldn’t have. Or maybe you were surprised at how delicious and refreshing it still tasted. There’s a reason beer doesn’t last as long as you’d think, folks. On that same note, there are also a few tricks to making your beer last longer.
Why Does Beer Go Bad?
The primary causes of beer going bad are:
Beer comes with an expiration date and is generally intended to be consumed right after it is purchased, whether from a store or brewery. Bison Brew states that beer should ideally be drunk between 3 and 6 months after purchase. But if you must keep a six-pack around for a rainy day, consider the following:
Keep Your Beer Upright.
This prevents the oxygen bubbles from moving around the container. Less movement will mean less oxygen travelling through the beer itself, thus reducing the oxygenation over time. Remember, beer poured into crowlers and growlers at a brewpub are exposed to oxygen while they travel from the tap. Those should be drunk within 36 hours.
Keep Your Beer in a Cold, Dark Place.
Like the fridge. Refrigerators are naturally designed to keep food and drink lasting longer than, say, if it was left on the counter or in a cupboard. If you have surplus beer that won’t fit in the fridge, it should be in a temperature-controlled cold cellar or, say, in a closed, hard-shelled cooler in the snow.
Beer Packaged in Cans Lasts Longer Than in Bottles.
This is because bottles allow UV rays to travel through the glass. Similarly, dark tinted bottles will pass less UV light than clear bottles (think Modelo vs Corona). Too much light can cause a beer to “skunk.”
Some Beer Actually Can Get Better With Age.
A general rule of thumb is that beers purposefully made with a higher ABV will last longer and possibly age better than their lower alcohol counterparts. Examples of beer that can get better with age are Imperials, Sours, and Wilds. Imperials will become richer while sours and wilds will become more complex.
But even those beers that can be aged still should be aged wisely. Adam Avery, founder and CEO of Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colorado, has some advice for aging beers.
“I’d buy a case of it and every six months, pop a bottle open for a special occasion,” he told Eater. “As soon as you think it’s not as good as the last time you had it, it’s probably not going to rebound. So that’s when I would drink the rest of those beers.”
Signs Your Beer Has Gone Bad
This nifty chart, “Sensory Changes During Beer Aging” (Dalgiesh, 1977) shows how beer changes over time.
It Smells Like Skunk
If it smells like a skunk, your beer has been exposed to too much light.
It Tastes Like Buttered Popcorn
If your beer has a popcorn taste, it may have too much diacetyl. Diacetyl is naturally present in some beers from the fermentation process, such as in ales and porters. But not all beer should have diacetyl, and too much of it can damage your lungs.
It Tastes Like Cardboard
Your beer has definitely been exposed to too much oxygen if it has a cardboard taste.
It Tastes Like Sewage, Sulphur, or Like Some Other Weird and Unintentional Flavor
This could mean the beer or container it was kept in was exposed to unintentional bacteria. Beer with any flavor such as these should be thrown out. Don’t risk getting sick or just feeling gross in your mouth.