Buying beer used to be simple. The hardest choice you had to make was imported or domestic, or maybe how many cans you wanted. Today, craft beer is everywhere, and the beer run is no longer a walk in the park. Here are some common beer-buying mistakes to avoid on your next shopping trip.
Buying old beer
With precious few exceptions, beer is best when it’s as fresh as possible. This is doubly true when you’re dealing with smaller, local breweries that don’t have the process controls in place that the bigger craft brewers (think Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Co.) enjoy, or when you’re buying hop-forward brews. This is especially true for IPAs - the essence of hop aroma is volatile and it’s the first flavor to fade. Most craft brewers now date their packages with either a bottled-on date or a best buy date; buying beer without looking for some indication of its freshness is a great way to buy stale beer. It isn’t uncommon to see IPAs that are nine months old, or older even, on the shelves of local stores. Generally, you want beer that’s less that 90 days old, and if you’re buying hoppy beer, the fresher the better. Old beer won’t hurt you, but it won’t be as fragrant or vibrant in flavor as you deserve, so check the date on the bottle.
Buying unrefrigerated beer
After shelf life, the biggest threat to the flavor of craft beer is temperature. All the chemical reactions that degrade a fresh beer into a flabby and faded pint are accelerated at warmer temperatures. Anything above about 40 degrees Fahrenheit is putting beer at risk, and room temperature ages a beer many times faster than cold storage. It’s always preferable to buy beer out of a cooler instead of floor stock, but many stores (grocery stores especially) stock their refrigerated sections out of warm warehouses.
Shopping at the wrong stores
It’s great that craft beer is so ubiquitous at grocery stores, bodegas and even Costco, at least in theory. The reality is that most of these retailers are not as focused on beer quality as they are on moving cases of product. From keeping stock warm to inventory that’s embarrassingly old, even some stores that try to be craft beer destinations are really just selling bad beer. Your best bet is to shop at specialty retailers that have the knowledge and passion for beer. But if you do buy beer at the supermarket or BevMo!, your best bet is to buy popular brands that sell well. Be especially wary of marked-down beer, because sale beer usually means stale beer.
Always buying the same brands (or never buying the same beer twice)
It’s great to have a go-to favorite brew that you know won’t disappoint, but new breweries are debuting every month, and new beers are hitting shelves every week. It’s impossible to try them all, but what’s the fun in settling for the old standby all the time? Roll the dice on a new brand or a style you haven’t tried before. Taking a flyer on something that catches your eye is a great way to discover a new favorite, and if you’re nervous about getting a dud, you can check reviews before you buy on sites such as Ratebeer.com or the Untappd app. There’s also such a thing as trying too many. Don’t let your drive to try ‘em all prevent you from revisiting past favorites, or from enjoying the too often overlooked craft beer classics. When was the last time you drank through a six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? It’s the definition of an oldie but a goodie.
Not taking care of the beer when you get it home
Once you’ve bought some fresh craft beer, don’t ruin a good thing before you get to drink it. Keep it off the kitchen counter and in the refrigerator. Contrary to the old myth, chilling beer that’s warmed up to room temperature won’t hurt its flavor, but it won’t do it any favors either. Don’t let that fresh bottle of double IPA sit around in the fridge waiting for the perfect time to drink it, only to have it slowly fade into flavorlessness. Those cans of hazy IPAs are particularly susceptible to mishandling, so keep those cold and drink them within a couple of weeks.