If there’s one pet peeve that beer geeks agree upon, it’s bottles or cans that don’t include packaging dates.
Freshness counts. Especially when it comes to hoppy beers.
Last month, Payette Brewing Co. of Garden City began printing “packaged on” dates on the bottom of cans. Boxes are being hand-stamped, so the date is visible on the outside of packaging, too.
Sockeye Brewing of Boise has been hand-stamping boxes and six-packs since it started packaging canned beer three years ago. Thanks to a new canning line and coding equipment, that process is being automated. Better yet, we’ll also start seeing dates on the bottom of every Sockeye can within a couple of weeks. So you’ll always know how fresh that Dagger Falls IPA is, even if it was rustled out of the back of your neighbor’s musty garage fridge.
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Bravo to Payette and Sockeye breweries for taking beer dating to the next level.
“For me, it’s just really important for our own quality,” Payette founder Mike Francis says.
Most craft beer is made to be consumed fresh. (We’ll leave aging beer, or “cellaring,” for another column.) Consequently, I have a general rule when shopping for packaged IPAs: No date, no dice.
There’s nothing more disappointing than popping open a bottle of your favorite hop-forward beer, only to have your taste buds discover that it’s been rotting away on a shelf for an eternity. Instead of the flavor and aroma intended by the brewer, you get treated to what’s derisively known as a “malt bomb.”
Yes, I’m the wack job in the grocery aisle scrutinizing bottles and cans for barely legible dates. A good resource for finding and deciphering beer dates is freshbeeronly.com, which lists breweries’ policies. Ballast Point of San Diego, for example, nefariously uses Julian dating. So don’t forget to bring your abacus when shopping for beer.
When it comes to beer-expiration limits, different breweries make different recommendations. That’s why I always prefer to see a “born on” date rather than a “best by” date.
Storage temperature is also terrifying. Purists might scoff at the craft-beer relevance of MillerCoors, but that’s the company credited with the “3-30-300 rule.” It reinforces what we know instinctively: That beer belongs in cold storage. The 3-30-300 rule says that you get the same loss of “brewery-fresh flavor” at three days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit as you do in 30 days at 71 degrees or in 300 days at 33 degrees. (So never put beer in a car trunk.) And that’s not even addressing aroma, one of the blissful highlights of a perfect IPA.
If I see a retailer selling hoppy beer on display at room temperature, I wince. No way am I buying that.
Even when you buy cold beer, you don’t know how it was stored before it hit that cooler. Nevertheless, I feel much safer when I can check a packaging date. If an IPA was bottled more than a month ago, I hesitate. More than two months? Forget it, I’m grabbing something else.
Not all beer consumers are this choosy. That’s fine. Let your palate dictate your policy. But dates on packaged beer let everyone make a better-informed decision. I genuinely hope more Treasure Valley breweries figure out a way to include dating, especially if they ship beers out of market.
In the end, it’s not only the consumer who benefits. Beer dating empowers breweries such as Payette and Sockeye, who distribute their brew in various parts of the West.
“The further away we get from the brewery, it’s inevitably an older beer for the most part,” Francis says. “And if there are any issues, we want to be able to identify them quickly. If there’s a date on it, we can actually trace it back to a specific batch and brew date. If there is a problem, we can find that beer right away.”
Payette hired a full-time quality-control manager in June. It’s obvious that the brewery, which will expand into a larger new Boise facility next year, is taking consistency seriously.
Most Boise breweries don’t have the financial means to match Payette on that front. But finding a way to date canned and bottled beer is one surefire way that breweries of all sizes can prove to customers that nothing is more important than quality.
In the meantime, it feels great to raise a beer — a fresh beer — to rising standards.
Questions? Bar jokes? Reach out to Michael Deeds on Twitter: @michaeldeeds