It seems like every time I have a “controversial” stance on beer I’m standing opposite of Andy Crouch. For what it’s worth, Crouch is a far better and a far more respected writer than I ever hope to be. And he uses a lot less fucking curse words (and I respect him a great deal). That said, his latest Beer Advocate column found its way across my Facebook feed and I can’t help but take issue with it.
Crouch’s article deals with the issue of beer dating, and not the kind I do with an empty can and a bottle of lube. Crouch goes after breweries for administering a “Best By” date to their products. His argument boils down to the fact that there is no uniform measure – by style or brewery – for when a beer falls out of sync with its intended flavor profile. This is an inarguable fact. However, the solution that Crouch seems to propose (in lieu of any actually proposition) is a bottled on (or brewed on) date. The problem with this is that it suffers from the very same problems that a “best by” date suffers from:
- There is no uniformity for style
- There is no uniformity for brewery
- Any date stamped on the bottle is essentially meaningless for the two preceding reasons
The concept beyond the “best by” date is that it provides the consumer with a time-frame within which the brewer feels their product is at its peak. There are innumerable variables for which the brewer cannot control, most of which deal with shipping conditions. A “best by” date, through the very nature of the beer industry is – at best – a best guess. Crouch, in his article, lambasts the “best by” date as an:
amorphous, arbitrary tactic that only a manufacturer could love. Masquerading as an effort to help consumers, such dating of beer results in the illusion of honesty, leaving drinkers with no actual tangible information on which to base purchasing decisions.
Okay. Not wrong. But I defy Mr. Crouch – or anyone else – to offer an adequate solution. Crouch states, “As a customer, I want to know when my beer was bottled (or better yet, brewed), not the outer limits of when a lab technician thinks it will still taste like beer.” And that’s a fair point, but what REALLY does that date tell you? Does it provide you with any more tangible information than the nebulous “best by” date?
In practically, no it doesn’t. It can tell you the date a beer was brewed on, but that serves no greater purpose than drinking a “best by” beer further away from its “best by” date. In essence, both dates suffer from the same meaninglessness. There is no standard against which to judge this beer, making any measure of its “freshness” thereby irrelevant.
This is my problem with “great beer writers.” Too often they crusade for the “rights” of the consumer while losing track of the numerous variables that exist between grain and glass. Mind you, nothing in Crouch’s piece is wrong – per se – but it is wrongheaded in that it puts the onus on the brewer to force intelligence upon the consumer. Please name another food product – or any product – on the market where the onus is put upon the manufacturer to educate the consumer to the downsides, flaws, or shelf-life of the product within any reasonable timeframe. None exist. Your closest parallel is in dairy products, but those date are just as meaningless; a by-product of government regulation. What – exactly – are breweries putting over on consumers by not placing dates on their products? Remember, breweries have little to no input on how/where their products are distributed and even less influence on how/where/when/and for how much their products are sold to end consumers (Thanks, three-tier system!).
So please, continue to ignore the hypocrisy of drinking a gallon of milk a few days past it’s “Best By” date while turning up your noses at a “hop-faded” IPA. Rest easy knowing all the “great beer writers” support your decision.