“Bottled On” Dating

Posted on 05.11.08 8:16PM under Freshness

I just love reading BeerAdvocate magazine. I am always so happy to see it come in the mailbox each month or so. Even though I hardly ever log on to post a review any more, I think that the articles in the magazine really do a great job of covering this great subject from so many different angles.

Sure, I don’t read every article. Some of them are not the most interesting to me. But there’s always a few that really do a great job of grabbing my attention. One of my favorites is the ten steps to beerdom, where they interview a professional brewer or brewery owner about basically how they got started and their general view of the industry and their place in it. But this is about the Advocate This article from Volume II Issue IV.

In this article Jason and Todd talk about freshness dating standards. And now I feel inspired to share my opinion on this topic.

A package with no freshness information is the worst. I have had many bad beers that have that distinctive old taste. But all too often, when I go back to the beer bottle or can itself for more information on the age of the suspect, I find no information at all. I end up faced with the prospect of researching the evolution of the particular beer’s packaging design to give me a range of possible production dates. I have thus far always chosen to not do that project, and instead just chalked it up as a non-fresh beer. 

I have never felt that “best by” information was all that useful. Sure, it could give me an idea of when someone else felt the beer would be best by. Even if it was the brewer, it is still likely to be a date on the safe side of the freshness. Beer doesn’t just go bad one day. It deteriorates over time. And even some old beer isn’t that bad. But nonetheless, a “best by” date gives you a ballpark number.

My favorite variety of freshness information is “bottled on” dating. Some brewers seem to do this sporadically. Like special releases may say when they were made. These are typically vintage beers meant to be aged at proper conditions. For example, Brooklyn’s Monster Barley Wine is vintage dated very clearly on the label. Problem is, you have to dig a bit to find out if it’s made late in the year or early in the year.

Right now my favorite “bottled on” dating scheme comes from our friends in Delaware, Dogfish Head. They ink right onto the bottles the date that beer was put into the bottle. I like this for many reasons. First, they seem to do it to all their bottles, no matter if it’s a beer with a short shelf life or a beer meant to last a while in the cellar. Second, whatever sort of ink they use to imprint the bottle is permanent. It has never washed off in all my reuse of their bottles for homebrewing purposes. So you can always find it there. Consider this as opposed to a notch on a label that can be hard to interpret, become too damaged to read, or even just simply come to you un-notched.

So, in conclusion, give me a “bottled on” date and I’m happy. Then when I get an old tasting beer, I can tell if it’s actually old, or if there’s a premature failure in the beer. In other words, if the beer’s not that old and still tastes old, then the brewer probably has a process issue. Whereas, if the beer’s very old but doesn’t taste it’s age, then the brewer’s products are probably great fresh.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Ed on 05.15.08 9:19 PM

    You are so right about the etched on dates. I have seen brewery reops come in and use a pencil eraser to remove the exp. date on a beer and put it back into circulation. Bravo for the etched born on dates that cannot be tampered with