The vast majority of beers are best enjoyed fresh – certainly hoppy pales and IPAs are, lest the hops fade out of recognition. So I was genuinely surprised (and possibly naïve) to see a tweet from an employee of a well-known bottle shop lamenting the fact that over half of the beers they had taken delivery of were out of date. The beers were from Dieu de Ciel, Ayinger and Ska, breweries that are no doubt very protective of their hard-won reputations, and the distributor was Brewdog, a brand seemingly so committed to the cause of fresh beer that they brought us Born to Die.
It’s possible that the beers arrived on these shores already well beyond their best, but if so, surely Brewdog was within its rights to send them back? Regardless, the bottle shop was left with the prospect of discounting the beer thus making a loss, while its patrons were left with substandard beer. Yes, they could have refused the order and demanded a refund, but this practice is so common as to make this option unviable in the long-term. It’s also been known to catch out beer festival organisers who are under the same pressure to sell the beer on, and if they do, once again the consumer is the loser. Incidentally, I’m aware of at least one brewery that has been pressured by distributors to extend the date of its pale ale from four to six months, which I find particularly deplorable. I’m happy to say that so far the brewery has remained unwavering in its commitment to fresh beer.
A related issue is whether the beer we drink has been stored at an appropriate and consistent temperature (including when in transit) before it even arrives at retail. This is a subject that Yvan Seth from Jolly Good Beer has talked, tweeted and blogged about extensively (you can read a recent Facebook post of his on the matter here), yet he remains an apparent lone voice in the wilderness.
I have no answers or solutions to any of this, I am merely a frustrated beer drinker. Is there an answer, or do competing interests within the beer industry mean these issues are insurmountable? If anyone working in the industry has anything to contribute, please feel free to comment or DM me on Twitter if you wish to remain anonymous and I will re-post below.
All I want is a fresh beer, goddammit.
Addendum – I contacted Brewdog three days ago as I wanted to offer the right of reply prior to publishing the post, and have just received a response. A representative states:
“We actively seek out packaging dates and BBE’s before agreeing to any purchase to help mitigate this kind of thing from happening. If anything arrives that is short dated or even out of date, we get in touch with the supplier immediately. We have systems in place to prevent short-dated beers then going out to our supply customers but a few from those breweries mentioned slipped through on that occasion. We are looking to not hold as much stock to prevent this, and as more breweries adopt things like Bottled On dates this really helps us.”
It’s also my understanding that a full refund was issued to the bottle shop concerned; clearly there remain issues that need to be addressed but you can’t say fairer than that.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr under creative commons