A common question among beer enthusiasts is whether beer expires. The answer to this query is no. Beer doesn’t expire. Although most beers have an expiry label, beer doesn’t entirely go bad after its expiry date. But can you drink expired beer without risking your health?
Is It Safe to Drink Expired Beer?
It is entirely safe to drink beer that has exceeded its shelf life. Most breweries filter or pasteurize beer to eliminate pathogenic microbes.
Besides, the fermentation process creates an environment where pathogens can’t survive. Beer won’t spoil, provided you don’t interfere with its packaging.
If you find expired beer in your basement, you need to scrutinize its exterior. If the packaging is compromised, the beer will be unsafe to drink. Bacteria and other microorganisms might be present if the can/bottle is punctured. You’ll likely fall ill when you consume such beer.
What of the Flavor?
Fresh bottles have a refreshing bitterness, while old beer bottles are flat and may develop a cardboard flavor. The primary factor that alters beer flavor is oxidation.
All beers contain small amounts of oxygen. Over time, oxygen interacts with other beer components. This interaction causes other compounds to break down under the oxidation process.
As these flavor compounds disintegrate, their original flavors dissipate, and new flavors emerge. Some aromatic compounds might develop sweet, sherry-like flavors. But the prominent taste in oxidized beer is wet cardboard.
The alcohol content of beer plays a significant role in the oxidation process. The more the alcohol content, the slower the oxidation process.
What About the Effects of Light and Heat?
Another familiar taste in beer that is past its prime is skunky flavor. The primary culprit for the skunk-like taste is light.
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light causes beer to age poorly. So, if you taste an expired beer stored in a transparent bottle, it will likely taste bad. However, brown/aluminum bottles are capable of blocking UV light. Expired beer from such bottles won’t have a skunky flavor.
Unlike light, heat doesn’t alter the beer’s flavor. Instead, heat acts as a staling agent that quickens the oxidation process.
How Long Do Beers Last?
There isn’t a definitive answer as to how long beer can retain its freshness. Beers can remain relatively fresh six to nine months after their expiration date. The exact period depends on several factors.
The Alcohol Content
Beers that have high alcohol content last longer. As mentioned earlier, the high alcohol content slows down the oxidation process.
Different organic compounds in the beer will therefore retain their natural flavors for an extended period. That’s why strong beer like imperial stout tastes good even ten years after brewing. On the other hand, low ABV (Alcohol By Volume) beers like Pale Ales and IPAs will have a stale taste after they expire.
The type of packaging has some influence on the shelf life of beer. Most breweries package their beers in aluminum cans or glass bottles. Cans are better at preserving beer compared to glass bottles.
Glass bottles aren’t 100% air-tight. You will find a percentage of oxygen in these bottles. Oxygen will interact with other beer compounds and result in oxidation. Oxidation eventually destroys these compounds resulting in a flat taste.
Cans are more airtight than bottles. Therefore, the amount of oxygen in the cans is relatively low. Oxidation won’t be a significant problem when beer in the can expires.
If you intend to drink expired beer, you might as well go for canned beer. If it fizzes when opening, chances are it tastes fresh.
Beer cellaring can improve the longevity of beer during storage. However, oxidation will kick in at some point and change the beer’s flavor. Of course, the rate of oxidation will be slower compared to beer exposed to UV light.
It’s advisable to store beer in an upright position. That way, only a tiny amount of beer will interact with the oxygen near the top of the beer bottle.
Another reason is to lessen the effects of yeast. When you store beer upright, the dead yeast cells are likely to sink to the bottom. They won’t interfere much with the flavor of the expired beer.
The storage temperature of beer has a massive influence on how long the beer stays fresh.
The most effective way to store beer is under refrigeration. Cold beer keeps its natural flavors and aromas even after the expiry date.
With that said, some types of beer age poorly under refrigeration. Beer that contains live yeast requires warmer temperatures for flavors to develop. Such beers will taste awful if you store them in the fridge for a long time.
Never store beer near a heat source. Heat accelerates the oxidation process and will cause the beer to lose its hoppiness. If you find an expired bottle near a window or a heater, you shouldn’t bother drinking it. It’s likely to have a skunky or stale flavor.
How Do You Tell If Beer Has Spoiled?
The expiration dates on beer bottles aren’t a yardstick for spoilage. If stored correctly, most beers will taste fine after their official expiry. But how would you know if an expired beer has gone bad?
Paper or Popcorn Flavor
A good indicator of beer spoilage is the beer’s flavor. You’ll find hints of paper, popcorn, or cardboard in rotten beer.
The compound responsible for this taste is diacetyl. This buttery-flavored chemical’s taste changes after beer goes bad.
Bad beer will have a skunky smell. This smell is a result of too much exposure to ultraviolet light.
Beer that has spoiled won’t produce white foam after opening.
Fresh beer should fizzle when opening. A rotten beer won’t produce such sounds.
Most beers that have gone bad have dusty sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Although beers have expiry labels, this bubbly beverage rarely goes bad. Expired beer doesn’t have pathogenic microorganisms, making it safe for human consumption. However, the taste of expired beer might be awful.