You’ve found that old bottle of beer stored in the pantry for a couple of months and you wonder “does beer go bad?”. I’ve got some good news for you – it doesn’t go bad (in 99 out of 100 times) if it is stored in appropriate conditions. The worst case scenario (in most cases) is that its taste has changed – the beer might be skunked, its taste be milder than usually or just plain stale. That kind of beer is safe to drink, but your taste buds might not be satisfied with that kind of beverage. To retain the best taste possible for the longest period of time you need to know how to store beer properly.
How To Store Beer
The most important thing you need to know about beer is that it doesn’t like light and should be kept safe from it. Beer (in most cases) gets its flavor from hops. I won’t get into much details here, but you should know that, unfortunately, hops are very sensitive to light. If they’re exposed to light for a specific period of time, beer will undergo a chemical reaction in result of which it’ll get that skunky taste. Some people just say that the beer is light struck, others prefer to call it a skunky beer. The mentioned period of time that beer has to be exposed to light depends on the kind of light to which the beer is exposed. Direct sunlight is the baddest for beer – the chemical reaction will be completed within one hour of exposure. If it comes to indirect sunlight, or other sources of light, the reaction lasts respectively longer.
To prevent your beer from skunking you need to store it in a dark place. The cellar, the pantry or the fridge seem to be the best places to store beer. Another factor that matters is the color of the bottle. There’s a reason why most bottles are dark brown – that color is the best to protect the liquid from light. Green and other-colored bottles protect the beer less effectively than the dark brown one and transparent bottles don’t protect from the light at all. If the beer is stored in a cask, keg or in a can it’s safe from light.
It’s true that some beers are being exposed to sunlight for a specific period of time in the process of manufacturing. That’s done on purpose, so the beer will acquire a specific taste. Those manufacturers, however, don’t recommend that consumers should do the same, so remember, don’t expose beer to light for an extended period of time.
There’s one exception to the no-light rule – some brewers use hydrogenated hop extract instead of fresh hops, that kind of beer doesn’t skunk. Unfortunately, it tastes differently than most beers.
As in the case of most alcoholic beverages, beer doesn’t like temperature changes. It’s the best to store beer in a cool place, like the earlier mentioned pantry, fridge or the cellar. Storing it in warm temperature or in a place where the temperature changes are often will definitely accelerate the process of staling of the beer.
Shelf Life Of Beer
As I’ve mentioned earlier, beer doesn’t spoil in the similar fashion to milk, but its taste can change, or it can skunk. That’s why manufacturers put a “best-by”, “sell-by”, or “best use-by” date on the label, instead of the usual expiry date. Most beers (those lower alcohol ones) and lagers are good for about half a year. If that kind of beer is stored properly it should taste fine for additional 4-6 months. If it is stored in a room temperature it’ll probably be not-that-good after the initial 6 months of storage. After that time beer will probably taste stale, flat, or noticeable milder than usual. Those are the causes of decomposition.
The mentioned beers contain some preservatives and definitely are pasteurized. Some local microbrews might not use any kind of preservatives in the process of production, so their beer lasts only a couple of weeks, even if it is being refrigerated. This is the only kind of beer that might be unsafe to drink after some time (like half a year), because of the lack of pasteurization and preservatives. If after opening the beer you notice any masses or any signs of mold, you should discard it immediately!
There are also some beers (usually with high alcohol content) that are supposed to mature in the bottle. I’m talking about ales, lambics, barleywines, stouts or other vintage beers here. Those beers can (and even should) be stored for a couple of years before drinking. It’s pretty difficult to say how long they can be stored, but 5-10 years are pretty safe numbers. Some of the producers even state that their beer it going to be fine after 20 years.
Beer doesn’t go bad in a way that milk does. It can be stored for a few years and it still won’t go bad. Most beers lose their taste with age, so after some time your beer will probably taste flat or stale. Regular low alcohol beers are usually fine for half a year, up to a year when they’re stored properly. Unpasteurized beers lose their taste a lot faster and they might be unsafe to drink after some time. There are also vintage beers, that can mature in the bottle for at least 5-10 years. The most important thing that you must remember about beer is that it shouldn’t be exposed to light.