Is your beer the best it can be? It is fresh? Does it sit on room temperature shelves in some large store? Is the beer-buyer educated and quality conscious?

These are questions that you, as consumers, should be asking when it comes to spending your hard-earned money on perishable products like beer. We, as a retailer, and as part of the supply chain, view two factors as paramount when it comes to customer satisfaction; cold storage, and shelf life.

The supply chain is fairly straightforward, you have the producer (brewery), the distribution company, and the retailer. Are all three tiers dedicated to providing the highest standards for your beer? In an industry populated by more than 7,000 breweries nationwide, the answer can be somewhat murky. 

Most breweries will tell you the idea of “cold shipping/storage” is of utmost importance, but only some manage to guarantee their beer will be shipped and stored cold at all times. 

This is an imperative step at Cooper Wine & Spirits. We guarantee that 100% of our craft beer is stored cold once it arrives in our store. Additionally, we maximize our shelf life by paying attention to date codes as we receive product, and by working with producers and distributors who are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of beer.

“There’s a general lack of knowledge about what happens to beer when it sits in a package over time,” says Mitch Steele, of Stone Brewing and New Realm Brewing. “The biggest thing people need to understand is that beer is like bread—it’s going to go stale over time. It’s not going to be bad for you, but it’s going to taste bread-y and grainy and different as it ages. So there’s a huge opportunity to educate people and emphasize the importance of why a beer should be consumed within its shelf life.”

Shelf life is highly dependent on beer style. For instance, darker, malty beers can often sit on a shelf longer, with little to no impact on taste or aroma, and in some instances can even improve over time. Whereas modern hoppy beers are more susceptible to degradation over time, due to the delicate nature of the chemical compounds in hops that create all the flavors and aromas we love.

I mentioned “modern” hoppy beer because hops are a bit of a conundrum when it comes to freshness. To examine this, let’s go back to the origin of the hoppiest of beer styles that continues to dominate the industry; the IPA.

India Pale Ale, or IPA, is a style developed by English brewers in the 1700s as a way to provide beer to the British empire, particularly India, where the climate was too warm for brewing. They used vast amounts of hops to maintain freshness over the months long journey. This way, the hops acted as a preservative to keep the beer from spoiling (as did a higher alcohol content). They created an entirely new style that quickly caught on as a result of its bright and pleasant flavors and aromas, and crisp bitterness.

In modern days, however, the purpose of hops in beer has evolved to maximize the sensory experience in beer. These “flavor and aroma compounds” are sensitive to temperature fluctuations as well as age. This is why is is so important to not only drink fresh, but also to keep cold.

Don’t be the guy that brings skunky beer to the party. No one likes that guy!