You’ve made your best batch of home-brewed craft beer – a rich milk stout or maybe a hoppy IPA – bottled it and stored it to enjoy later. But will you?
Even the best beer can go bad when it goes past its prime. Storing it at the wrong temperature can shorten its shelf life. Few things are as disappointing for a homebrewer as opening a bottle of ale only to find that it’s turned bad and is virtually undrinkable.
To make sure your homebrew is as good when you open a bottle as it was when you finished brewing it, Winning-Homebrew will answer that essential question: how long does beer last in the fridge?
How Long Does Unopened Beer Last?
The answer to how long unopened bottles of beer will last depends on the type of beer and whether it was commercially brewed or homemade.
It’s often best to drink lighter beers – pale ales, light lagers, weissbiers, and brown ales – first. Those are best consumed within 120 days of bottling or canning. Darker, heavier beers such as stouts and porters are best enjoyed within 180 days of bottling.
Barrel-aged beers, imperial stouts, and sour ales will last longer than less robust varieties, and the time can make them more mellow.
Generally, commercially brewed beers have a longer shelf life than homemade beer. Beers brewed in large quantities by commercial brewers can be stored longer than beers brewed in small quantities by craft brewers. The reason is in the steps taken by larger breweries to prevent the aging of their brews during transit.
Drink those beers and serve them to guests, and your brews won’t have time to age past their freshness date. Beer is brewed to be enjoyed fresh.
Is Drinking Beer After Its ‘Best by’ Date Safe?
The short answer is yes, it is safe to drink beer after its “best by” date. The date brewers put on their cans and bottles isn’t a safety date but a date for optimal freshness.
New Air, a manufacturer of beverage refrigerators, recommends drinking beer by the freshness date because it will taste better. Drinking an expired beer most likely won’t make you sick or kill you, but it may leave you wishing you had a better-tasting beer.
When Will Beer Go Bad?
Generally, commercial beer won’t have a noticeable change in freshness for six to 24 months after a freshness date. Darker, more robust beers will have less change over time than their lighter counterparts.
Homebrewed varieties may have a shorter shelf life than store-bought beer. Knowing that their beers will have to travel hundreds of miles to stores, commercial brewers tend to take more precautions against their beers’ aging.
How Does Beer Go Bad?
Nothing lasts forever. Beer will eventually decay, just like any other food or beverage. Beer is made from plant materials such as wheat and barley that will go stale over time. Bacteria and chemical reactions will also take a toll after time.
What Makes Good Beer Go Bad?
Generally, three factors can shorten the shelf life of beer – light, bacteria, and oxygen exposure. Here we’ll look at each.
There’s a reason many beer bottles have a dark color. It’s to keep out ultraviolet light. Exposure to light is one of the prime culprits in making good beer go bad. When UV light shines through beer bottles, it reacts with one of the chemical compounds in hops, breaking down the lovely hoppy-ness until the beer turns “skunky.” Cans of beer keep out all light and stay fresher longer.
If you like hoppy beers, look for them in cans or, if you’re storing homebrew, bottle it in brown bottles. It will help extend the shelf life of your favorite double IPA.
Microbial action makes all foods decay over time, and the same is true for beer. Bacteria are relatively rare in commercially brewed beer because breweries work to limit contamination. Homebrewers should do the same.
The alcohol in beer does act as a natural preservative, and refrigeration limits bacterial growth.
Oxidation is part of the aging process that breaks down the chemical compounds in beer, changing its flavor. Since oxidation is caused by air leakage, bottled beer may be more at risk than canned beer. To keep beers’ oxygen exposure low, store your beer upright instead of on their sides.
What Goes into Setting a Best-by Date?
Whether you are home brewing or buying a six-pack of beer at your local supermarket, you’ll want to be aware of factors that affect the freshness of your beer and the setting of a “best by” date. Keeping this in mind will ensure you have nothing but fresh beer at home.
Here’s one reason why home brewers enjoy fresher beer. It doesn’t travel hundreds of miles to reach your refrigerator. If your beer is brewed far away from where you live, that means it went on a road trip and may have been shaken or left in the sun along the way.
Local beer will always be fresher, so supporting your local brewery will pay off in fresher beer. Again, homebrew has an advantage here, as it’s brewed where it will be enjoyed later.
Beer is kept fresher in cans because they keep out ultraviolet light and are tightly sealed, keeping out oxygen and bacteria.
Still, there are some who like their cold beer in a long-necked glass bottle. Brown glass bottles keep UV rays away and protect beer against becoming skunky. Green bottles are also effective.
Beers in clear bottles tend to have a shorter shelf life, in part because the clear glass doesn’t block ultraviolet light. Also, the beers that do get bottled in clear glass bottles are usually lighter ones with a shorter shelf life anyway.
This only affects homebrewers if they make more than one type of beer and stow them away for later. Beers sold quickly in supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores, and beer shops don’t sit around collecting dust, so they’re restocked regularly with fresh bottles and cans. Less popular beers may sit on shelves aging.
Also, consider the traffic in the store where you buy beer. If they don’t have many customers, their beer won’t need restocking regularly.
When you buy beer at your favorite supermarket or shop, take a look at the freshness date. If it is close to its freshness date or, worse, past its freshness date, purchase a younger beer.
Buying beer from a refrigerated case means that it was protected from aging in the store. A plus to this is that the beer you buy is already cold and ready to enjoy, making it easy to pick some up for a cookout or for watching sports with a group.
Also, look to see if the beer was stored upright in the supermarket, preventing oxidation since less of the beer is exposed to oxygen.
What’s Best for Beer – Room Temperature or a Refrigerator?
The best temperature for storing an unopened bottle of beer is 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which is colder than room temperature but hotter than a standard refrigerator. If you don’t have a specialty beverage refrigerator or a 45-degree room, storing beer in your refrigerator is the best. Refrigerated beer will keep well for about six to eight months.
If you do store your beer in your pantry or cabinets, store it upright in a cool, dark spot, keeping it away from direct sunlight. Keeping your beer cool should help it stay fresh for at least four to six months.
What’s the Best Way to Store Beer Bottles?
Winning-Homebrew offers tips on a variety of home brewing topics, including the storage of beer bottles. These ideas could work for full bottles as well as the empty bottles you plan to refill after you brew your next batch. Note that the bottles are held upright in these recommended storage ideas.
How Can You Tell if a Beer is Bad?
If a beer has a skunky taste or odor, or if its appearance seems irregular, don’t drink it. These are obvious signs that a beer is too far past its prime. Life is too short to drink spoiled beer, so toss it.
Cheers to Fresh Beer!
Beer isn’t like a wine that gets better with age. The best beer is fresh beer. Although some robust beers such as barrel-aged brews and sours may age better than a pilsner and reveal more of their flavors, fresher is best. A bad beer will offer nothing but stale or even skunky aromas and flavors, and who wants that?
If your beer is a few months or even a year or more past its “best by” date, open it to check it out. It may still be good. Most beers are fine to drink after their freshness date has passed.
A skunky aroma or an appearance that looks off should be a sign that your beer has gone bad and that it’s not worth drinking.
Here’s a roundup of tips for enjoying your homebrew and store-bought beer and storing it with freshness in mind:
Rotate Your Stock
Drink older beers first to make sure you’re always opening a fresh bottle or can. A forgotten 12-pack at the back of your pantry could go bad over time.
Drink Your Beers
Drink beer fresh. Beer is for drinking, not for storing. Don’t wait for your beer to age. OK, you can store beers for months successfully, but they’re best enjoyed fresh. If you’re a homebrewer, serve your stouts and ales and enjoy them with friends and family. When you run low, you can always make more.
If you’re buying commercially brewed beer, don’t buy more than you will drink within a month or two. It takes up space in your home, and it could go bad before you finish it. Plus, with commercial beer, if you run low, fresh beer is available at the nearest supermarket.
Beers stored in your refrigerator will last at least two months longer than beers stored at room temperature. Refrigeration also keeps out UV light. If you’re a true beer lover, consider adding a refrigerator designed for beers, which will allow you to keep your brews at the perfect temperature for storing or serving. Keep your beer cold, people!
Dark is Best
If you do decide to store your beer at room temperature, make sure it is in a dark place with no direct sunlight. For example, a cool closet in your bedroom or a corner of your basement might be ideal for storing your beer.
Keep Bottles Upright
Storing beer bottles sideways doesn’t make sense. They’re more apt to roll that way, and they’re also more likely to become oxidized since sideways storage exposes more of the beer to oxygen.
Follow these tips for beer storage, and you’ll always have a fresh lager, porter, or IPA to enjoy. Remember, rotate so you can always drink the oldest first, keep your beers cold, and avoid storing them on their sides to enjoy a crisp beer each and every time!