The importance of fresh beer: what to look for & avoid

By / Wine + Drinks / July 10th, 2018 / 38
fresh beer tips

Well, after that seemingly eternal winter, we are FINALLY into summer. Praise the sun! As is my custom when I enter the warmth, I usually start drinking beers that go into the cold and crisp category (with many exceptions for bright and hoppy). In fact, I’m going to be honest: by the time you read this there’s a really solid chance that I’m going to be at the cottage with Jimmy Buffett’s “Tin Cup Chalice” playing, a brisket in the smoker, and a sixer of a really good pilsner or super juicy IPA at my side. I know I’m not alone in thinking that it’s beers like that which truly make for a special day in the sun.

Because of the inevitable seasonal rise in beers on the lighter side of the colour spectrum, I thought I’d let you know about the importance of fresh beer, how to look for it, and what to avoid.

What happens if you don’t drink a beer that’s fresh? You get oxidation, which is when beer is exposed to oxygen or high temperatures over time and results in a beer that literally tastes stale. Imagine someone replacing your clean and crisp pilsner with a glass of wet cardboard. Not great, right? Now, in addition to that, hoppy beers don’t do great over time either. As early as 30 days from bottling, the chemical compounds that give hops its … well, hoppiness begin to dissipate, making for a beer that is just not great at all. Now of course, not all beers can go bad from being left on the shelf over time. Dark and high alcohol beers obviously benefit from aging, but a good rule of thumb is that if the colour is light and the alcohol percentage isn’t massive, you gotta drink it fresh and generally no more than a few months old.

Now, trying to stay on top and aware of the freshness level of your beer may sound daunting, but trust me, it’s just like checking the best before date on foods at the grocery store. In fact, it’s exactly like that! Breweries are really good about putting best before or “bottled/canned on” dates on their products. All you have to do is just pick up a bottle or can and look for the stamped-on date.

I should say, however, that while that can be a great guideline, if you really want to place importance on freshness, be cautious of that date. Just because a beer CAN last for up to six months doesn’t mean it SHOULD — you’d be better off bringing the date down by a month or two and seeing how it is. Ideally though, I’d prefer the dates that show when the beer was bottled or canned. If the date is more than three or four months ago, let it go and move on.

But if the beer is less than a month old, buy it. Heck, buy as many as you can hold.


Robin LeBlanc is a beer columnist, award-winning blogger at, and co-author of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a guidebook to all of Ontario's breweries now in its second edition. She lives in Toronto.

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