Let’s get this out in the open so we are all on the level:
Beer has a freshness problem.
There is no skipping around this point. It reared its head this week with this post on Beer Is Your Friend, touching on the hypocrisy of some US brewers building their brand on freshness with a hardline, refund friendly, stance on anything older than 90 days in their home market; while softening that for export markets. Here, that 90 days blows out to 12 months. A necessity of doing business in this market? Sure. Hypocrisy? By definition, yes.
They are easy to single out because of their marketing and transperancy in the US. As some commenters pointed out in subsequent discussion on the issue, they are still ahead of Australia for simply having bottling or best before dates on their packaging.
I couldn’t agree more. In Australia bottling or canning dates are usually nowhere to be found and every time you splash your cash on a new beer you are taking a risk. The result is a lot of old beer in literally any shop that sells beer.
Whether it’s driven by consumers cherry picking and ticking, or market saturation; it’s an issue that occurs from the top down in every country. Old stock is pushed out from warehouses and into bars and shops. Where it sits – sometimes at room temperature – for an indefinite amount of time.
The 90 day mark, for me, is even too generous and I’m wary of finding anything older than a month when buying IPA. After spending untold amounts on beer over the years, and being disappointed regularly while almost-literally pouring money down the drain, my own purchasing habits are clouded by “do I know how long that has been sitting there?” and if I don’t, I will buy something else.
The biggest question in this whole kerfuffle is how does the industry fix it? The answer is: they probably don’t. At least not immediately anyway. Since beer became industrialised the model is all about volume. Shipping volume, storing volume and selling volume. Pasteurising and fine-tuning the industrial product led to it being stable for long periods.
Now the industry is shifting towards more delicate, unpasteurised and less stable product but still trying to work on the industrial distribution model. The result is everyone is selling and drinking old beer. It’s inevitable. No matter how hard you try and avoid it, you will end up with something in poor condition sooner rather later.
The best thing I see happening, and the only solution that I can really see, is the slow move to more taprooms. While I don’t trust a lot of the beer in the bottle-stores I pass on the way to my local brewery, I know that the beer I’m getting out of the taps is the freshest it could possibly be. On a recent visit to one, the brewer apologised profusely for the age of his three week old beer. The next glass I had was kegged that morning. I’m not sure I could find that same product in any store that was just as fresh, and given they don’t date their packaging, I would have no way of knowing.
And how about the two breweries that were the centre of debate here in Australia? How do Sierra Nevada and Stone’s product actually hold up in the local distribution channels, given the public shaming by me, and others?
Well Sierra Nevada are the only US beer that I will 100% back regardless of age. The work they do to keep oxygen out of their process is incredible and it results in their beer being probably (in my opinion at least) the most stable hop forward beer on shelves anywhere. If there was a hoppy US import that I would recommend gladly to anyone, it would be the beers from Sierra Nevada.
And Stone? Well a reader sent me this note the other week. They sent it through just out of interest and I had been meaning to highlight it on a podcast. I figure now is the perfect time:
Not sure if you knew but there was an infected batch of Stone Go To IPA circulating Aus a while back. Johnny at Experience It offered replacements and recently sent them out in the mail. I’d bought a 6 pack, and in return Johnny sent ; 2 x 6 packs of Go To IPA 1 x 6 pack of assorted Nomad cans 1 x Arrogant Bastard 475ml can 1 x Wussie pilsner 475ml can 3 x Stone IPA cans 1 x Stone glass 1 x Stone baseball cap A ton of stickers A signed, personally addressed apology letter It cost >$50 just to send my package, plus there were plenty more for others. I know Stone would have covered costs but still.. Safe to say I’m stunned and told Johnny how appreciative I was. Just feel I need to share a good story.
They deserve the spotlight for awesome over and above customer care. I was just wary about posting specifics in public as I’d hate to see them get swamped by BS complaints in the hope of free shit. I’ll leave it with you though, you’d know better than me. I made sure to let Stone and Yeastie Boys know how happy I was with their Aus importer
While I don’t have answers on how we resolve the issue of beers staling on Australian shelves, that’s a bloody good start.
Just to blow our own horn I literally had a can I use as a pen holder on my desk. Here at BentSpoke we print the batch number and best before date on every can and carton.
Example from the desk here: https://plus.google.com/+JohnGriffithsRA/posts/HwZ1yNzNmyw
For the record, the Stone beer was not infected, it was over carbonated and this has happened from time to time with almost every craft brewer. Stone put just as much effort into their quality as SN. Experienceit also covered 80% of the costs as we guarantee every beer because we are confident 99% of the time they should be in excellent condition. suggesting 90 day code dates for a market like Australia or even just buying through cellar door is totally impractical and will make many brewers un-economical. factoring in size of country, small population, distribution channels etc. Most UK brewers for example use 6 month codes on their beers in the local market and a good bottle conditioned beer should last more than 90 days and deliver a very good experience. The best approach in my view is to ensure if you have an issue you contact the brewer and any good brewer will gladly refund or replace the beer at fault, as we have done a number of times. If you spend the money then you should get the best product, and if its not, report it and get it fixed. retail channels are a critical and vital part of any brewer being profitable.
Yep, as I said, it’s a difficult issue. The transparency from the big US players is admirable. Also the moves from Moon Dog and Mt Goat to only packaging one off IPAs rather than making them a core product I think make sense in this country. From a consumer point of view (and I’m aware I’m at the pointy end), it is increasingly hard to trust anything packaged – but that’s not saying it’s all bad of course.
At the end of the day, I just want the best beer for my money, from a company I trust. And I encourage people to be aware of what they are buying. The amount of old stock on shelves from pretty much every brewery in the country isn’t good for the industry. People are potentially getting their first exposure to craft beer by buying an expensive old beer. If that turns them off the segment, then no one wins.
I find most beers I buy are dated both Aus and imported these days, with it quite easy to ascertain its age (whether it’s a used by or canned on date).
That said, there certainly is too much withered and tired stock in fridges across the country (or sitting on palates in the tropical sun). Some favorite brews I’m patiently waiting for my various local craft suppliers to sellout and restock. I’d give anything for a fresh PL IIPA….
Another anecdotal comment, I checked-in on Untappd a tired Torpedo IPA including its age in the commentry, nowhere near the glorious brew it is due to 6mths aging….SN commented back I should get a fresher cans…, well thanks guys, but it is only halfway through our own stated 12mth used by date for our market!
Just means you need to #drinklocal and ensure it’s fresh if the bottleshops stock is aged, and maybe even when it’s not.