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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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The Three Pint Stance - 06/08/2016

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You gotta be fresh

Ever crack open a bottle or can of your favorite beer and noticed something was off? Maybe the malty notes taste a bit muddled, perhaps the hop flavor wasn't quite as bright as you remember it, or you even taste a cardboard or metallic flavor in the beer. Chances are, if you look around the container you will find a date stamp, and this is usually the culprit as to why your beer isn't all it can be - staleness.

As a rule, beer is always best when drunk fresh. Sure, there are exceptions - aging wild ales and some heavier, more robust Belgian ales and stouts - but on the whole, beer tastes better when it is consumed as soon after packaging as possible.

So what happens that makes the beer taste bad? The chief contributor to stale beer taste is oxidation. Fresh beer is loaded with anti-oxidants, many of which hold some of the more nuanced flavors of the beer. As beer sits on shelves, oxygen slowly finds its way into the beer and causes these anti-oxidants to break down, resulting in the dreaded flavor loss.

Another factor in the degradation of the quality of your brew is light, specifically ultraviolet (UV) light. Hops, one of the main ingredients in just about every beer, are very sensitive to UV light. If you have ever had a beer that is best described as skunk, you have tasted what happens when UV light breaks down the volatile compounds in the hops. Beers that are packaged in clear or green bottles are most susceptible to this breakdown, as those containers let more UV light through than dark-brown bottles and cans.

Even with beer that has been stored properly and not exposed to light, just being in a bottle, can or keg for too long can cause the beer to taste stale. Most breweries set a shelf-life of about 90 to 120 days on their products, but some more hop-forward beers can start to taste different in as few as 60 days after packaging under ideal conditions.

So, what can you do? The best thing you can do is purchase your beer in a store that has a dedicated craft-beer staff and high turnover. Watch out for places with larger beer selections, as the more choices people have, the slower each brand tends to move. Lastly, always check for a date code on the outside of the packaging.

Fresh beer is good beer.

What's in my glass?

Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, Maine)

Beer: Little Brett

ABV: 4.8%

Little Brett is an exercise in the complexity that can come from a beer made of relatively simple ingredients. Little Brett would be a boilerplate blonde ale with a nice hop note were it not for the fact that it is fermented with Allagash's House Brettanomyces strain. Brettanomyces is a wild yeast that is known for producing tart, earthy and sometimes fruity flavors. Little Brett is a pale straw color, and has a delightfully fruity aroma with notes of pineapple, a nice hop character from the Mosaic dry-hop addition and a very mild tart and dry finish that refreshes the palate.


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