The independent consumer guide to beer product dating.
Information wants to be free.
I can't answer all the e-mail I recieve, so I gave up and wrote a FAQ.
I am The Beer Guy (or, at least, I was.)
See, in a desperate attempt to work my way through graduate school, I spent three years working at a small drug store in Grosse Ile, Michigan, where I was a liquor clerk/stockperson/receiver/orderer. What's that mean? It means I ordered all the beer. I tagged all the beer. I put all the beer on the shelves. I sold a lot of the beer, I pulled the expired beer off the shelves and argued with the beer distributors until they took it away. I was the Guy Who Knew About Beer.
To tell the truth, beer (unlike, say, milk) isn't one of those things where a few
days takes it from
poisonous. On the other hand,
beer wouldn't have an expiration date if it didn't mean something.
There's been a lot of bickering among beer fans about how important product
dating is, but you don't want to drink truly old beer. Really.
I've tried it, and it's no fun.
Because, my friend, there is a conspiracy against the consumer! It is a conspiracy of silence, denial, and ignorance. Breweries don't tell you about expiration dates (because, like most corporations, they like to pretend they're infallible). Distributors try to deny the dates are important (because they're the ones who lose the money when beer spoils). Retailers and bartenders often don't realize the dates are there (because it's so hard to get good help these days). Put together, these factors may lead to expired beer being sold to you in a store or bar.
It's a crooked system, and I'm not going to let them get away with it
any longer! Whether or not I believe beer dies is almost
irrelevant; if the codes exist, the consumers have the right to decide for
themselves if they want to use them. I was
The Beer Guy long
enough to know how to read most of the major breweries' date-codes and to
have pretty solid theories on many other beers. Everything I know (or
think I know) is on this site for the benefit of beer consumers
everywhere. So there.
Maybe if more consumers make some noise about stores that leave bad beer on the shelves, the breweries will get the point, and all of them will start putting simple expiration dates on their packaging. (I originally doubted that would ever happen, but more and more breweries are changing their code systems.)
Sure. We're almost to that. First, however, I need to differentiate the two types of product dates. Even though I've been talking about expiration dates the entire time, the truth is that many breweries label their products with packaging dates. Packaging dates indicate when the beer was bottled (or canned) and left the brewery. Generally speaking, the harder it is to read a date code, the more likely that it's a packaging date and not an expiration date -- more on that in a couple of paragraphs.
To take advantage of packaging dates, you need to know the "shelf life" of the beer, which is even harder to guess than dating schemes. Unless the brewer (or I) say otherwise, you should assume domestic U.S. beers have a shelf life of 120 days (or 4 months, if that's easier for you). Many foreign breweries claim their products have a 1 year shelf life. (Foreign breweries often add extra sulfites as a preservative.)
Expiration Dates, on the other hand, are exactly what they sound like, and put a lot less of the work on the consumer. More breweries are switching to expiration dates as time progresses. If today's date is later than the date on your beer, the beer is past date, and its quality may be questionable.
Bottles usually have the production code stamped on the neck or shoulder, usually in black ink. Since most beer bottles are brown, it helps to hold the bottle up to a bright light, or empty it first. (See? I told you the breweries make this as difficult for you as possible.) A few breweries, notably Anheuser-Busch and the Boston Brewing Company, put dates on the labels. Good for them.
Cans are near-universally stamped on the bottom of the can. Remember to turn the can over before opening it. The person sitting next to you will thank you for it.
Multi-packs of beer (12-packs, 24-packs, etc.) are usually stamped on the box flaps. Larger cartons (such as the heavy boxes that hold four six-packs for shipping) are usually stamped on their longest sides.
Actually, there are several catches. First, realize that most of this information represents the research, estimations, and total guesses of one person. Total accuracy cannot be guaranteed, promised, or implied. I'm only human, folks.
Second, much of this information may be useless outside the United States. Internationally-popular brands of beer are often licensed to different breweries in different countries, so that a given brand may have different dating schemes depending on where you buy it. (There may actually be small code differences within the United States, but those seldom affect the product date.) I'm pretty sure that most of this information is at least valid in Canada, but beyond that, you're on your own. International readers are welcome to send me clarifications on the matter.
Jeez, calm down. It's nothing personal. If a beer isn't listed, it's because I haven't figured out the date code yet. I'm only one guy, I can't keep up with every beer in the world.
If it's really important to you, you can help me out. For the next few months, every time you buy your favorite beer, write down the date you bought it, and the production code stamp. Then e-mail the list to me and I'll try to figure it out.
If we crack the code, I'll give you a shout out on the page, and a link to your homepage.
And if you don't want to help, stop the whining already. It's undignified.
Heat, light, and age. So check the dates when you buy it. Store it in a cool, dark place. Buy canned beer if you're going to be in the sun. Drink it quickly.
I don't know, because I never needed to know for work. (And I still don't need to know. My doctor says I'm underweight. Clearly, I'm not drinking enough beer.)
Someone else has written a good page about this: The Beer Calories FAQ.
This is important to you?
I prefer Guinness, but I can't always afford the good stuff, so I end up drinking a lot of Miller High Life. I like my cheap beers simple and straightforward.
BeerDates.com is the independent consumer guide to beer product dating. It is not owned, operated, affiliated with, or endorsed by any brewery or brewing company. In other words, if you want to send e-mail to a beer company, don't send it to me.