So come on then, how many of you have a bottle of IPA held back for that rainy day, maybe a special treat next month, a gift for someone later in the year?
Surely you’ve had a pale ale gathering dust at the back of your beer cupboard or maybe chilling for a couple of months in the fridge?
I too have been guilty of this most serious of crimes against beer but since seeing (or tasting) the light last year I have been going straight, now its time for you to take heed and learn from my own and others mistakes.
Hops in IPA are supposed to give it zest, a citrus kick if you will. Sometimes they might be just a background rhythm balancing out a flavourful sweet malt with some fruit funk, sometimes they lever out your tastebuds with a Citra clawhammer and beat them into submission with a mango mallet. They all should have detectable fruitiness all should have some of that zest.
Leave your beer too long in the cellar, fridge or in a shipping container and that wet cardboard, stale stewed fruit starts to come through. It’s dead, the hops have lost their zest for life and before you know it you have what is known as a ‘Malt Bomb’ on your hands. You disarm a Malt Bomb by utilising a technique known as a ‘drain pour’, basically a shameful waste of beer.
Here’s my most guilty drain pour, a malt bomb from Russian River the makers of Pliny the Elder, more of that beer later.
‘Row 2 Hill 56’, purchased in Amsterdam in January 2013 this Simcoe Heavy high scorer on Rate Beer was bottled in late June 2012 and during those 6 months it had become a dry toast laden toungue scraper, full of malt, bereft of pine, no grape, zero zest. I was gutted.
Take note of my experience, your taste buds will thank you, and your drains will not overflow with stale hops.
It was a cold night in Chicago, September 2012 after having found a brewpub called Piece I ordered a pale ale called “The Weight”. The bartender mentioned the batch had literally just come out of the brewery, he flicked the tap on the font from 3 feet away and I could smell my beer being poured from across the bar. The aroma of tropical fruit, pineapple, lychee, mango interlaced with a resinous mist just blew me away. It is still to this day the finest IPA/Pale ale I have ever tasted.
Why? Well because it was fresh, super fresh, fresher than a spring lamb on a blue sky morning bouncing on a bed of crisp white linen freshly laundered by a porcelain skinned virgin. Yeah, that fresh.
Surely you can package that kind of freshness and deliver it to your customers?
Well, yes you can, but as I’ve mentioned a good flavour loaded pale beer can only keep its hop character for a matter of weeks, a best before date is only there for legal reasons, do not take this date as a “tastes good until” date.
Brewers who know the worth of flavour and the impact it can have on their reputation supply a “bottled on” date and may even have a “drink before” date.
The number of weeks in that magic window can be counted on 2 and half hands.
Stone have taken this idea to the ultimate, basically naming their IPA with an ‘Enjoy By’ date, a marketing gimmick maybe but it certainly makes the point, and a 100 on rate beer says something surely? Check out their Stone Fresh Beer Initiative video.
Russian River the makers of “Pliny The Elder” the unobtainable must have double IPA sought and lusted after by beer geeks everywhere makes it pretty clear what they think on the label
Here’s the hard to get Heady Topper from The Alchemist – he tells you what you should do.
and the latest UK star beer Un-Human Cannonball from Magic Rock Brewing.
I fervently believe that flavour is the single most important thing in craft beer, not alcoholic strength, not fancy labels or foil wrapping, not mouthfeel or plato not even IBU’s but good honest taste.
I can understand some of the issues with packaging, storing, delivery, supply and shelf time – but the simple fact is, if you lovingly craft a pale beer, lace it with uber expensive exotic hops and you’re happy for the consumer to think that it’s supposed to taste as you intended one and half years after bottling then sorry you’re onto a loser.
I love these 2 beers and try to get them fresh, but if you drank them within a month of the best before, well in my humble opinion you are not getting ‘best’ at all.
(Update June 2013 – Since this photo of Axe Edge was posted Buxton now have a bottled on date printed on their bottles – amen to that)
Let’s get one thing straight though – this deal applies to pale hoppy beer.
A heavy hitting stout gets better with age. Mikkeller knows the score:
In New York earlier this year I was drinking some fantastic beers with Ted Kenny, owner of TopHops, we were discussing the cons of getting fresh US beer over in the UK, he came up with a tough but very true comment, he said “basically an IPA is going off as soon as it’s packaged”.
Take his words with you. Read the labels, get to know which landlords pile their cellars high without swift rotation, make your choices wisely and dont store your IPA’s!
As The Kernel says “Please Drink Fresh”