Great Beer Writers


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.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s an oxidized IPA, and it doesn’t taste great.

    Your point that a best by date is as arbitrary as a born on date has some legs to it, though I personally would always rather see a born on date. (I, like Crouch, prefer to make my own decisions on how fresh I want a beer to be from a given brewery. For the most part, a porter or wit from a larger more established brewer is gonna last longer at “peak” than a hop bomb from a newer little guy based on a combo of chemical makeup and the technology and QC budget available to the larger brewer, no matter what either “best by” date says.)

    Furthermore, all craft beers need some sort of date code, especially IPAs, and need to be pulled from shelves when they turn. And it’s not about “turning your nose up” at an older and chemically altered beer. It’s about transparency and growing the market share of craft beer with first time buyers in mind.

    Since, as you point out, brewers have very little control over how their product is shipped, stored and sold, the date code is their only solid way of telling consumers “Hey! If this is old on the shelf, don’t buy it! Please! WE wouldn’t want to drink our product this way, and we certainly don’t want YOU to spend $15 on a six pack of it only to be disappointed!”

    If you’re a manufacturer trying to convince people to pay a premium for something your marketing as a higher quality, “artisinal” product, and make sure they keep coming back, not only to your product but also to craft in general, you need to ensure it doesn’t taste like cardboard.

    Reply

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