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I try to do most of my beer shopping at small, locally owned shops; places like Bottlecraft, Bine and Vine, Olive Tree Market and (though I don’t stop in nearly enough because the location isn’t very convenient for me) Best Damn Beer Shop. Places where I can be fairly confident that the beer turns over with some regularity and isn’t sitting around on the shelves for months at a time. But every once in a while I find myself near a BevMo and decide to stop in to see what they have.

Yesterday I was near BevMo in La Mesa and went in to check out the selection. While browsing the beer aisles I came across Widmer Brothers Nelson Imperial IPA, a beer I’ve heard good things about but have never had. A four pack of 12oz bottles was around $8 and the 22oz bombers were selling for around $4.50. I decided to get the 22oz, picked one up and kept browsing. When I was nearly done and about to pay I l looked at the label again and noticed the date code on the bottle. This beer had been bottled in August of 2011 and had been presumably sitting out on the warm shelves of BevMo ever since. Widmer Brothers describes Nelson Imperial IPA as having “a powerful hoppy character” but at 7+ months of sitting around on warm shelves I decided to skip it. I checked the four pack, which showed those beers had been bottled in February which seemed much more reasonable, though not being refrigerated wasn’t doing the beer any favors.

Though there are exceptions, most beer should be consumed as fresh as possible, especially IPAs and other hoppy beers. Sitting around for a few months shouldn’t ruin a beer, but the taste will start to drop off over time. Being stored cool and at a constant temperature helps maintain freshness.

I’m sure the Nelson Imperial IPA was still drinkable, though I’d be willing to bet it wouldn’t have nearly as much of that “powerful hoppy character” Widmer Brothers boasts, the hops would have faded and it would be much more malty and sweet. It certainly wouldn’t be dangerous to drink and shouldn’t be considered “expired”. But chances are had I drank it without knowing how old it was, my perception of Nelson Imperial IPA and Widmer Brothers IPAs in general would go down, causing me to avoid the products in the future.

Not all breweries put dates on their bottles, but for those that do it’s a good idea to check out how old a beer is before you buy it, especially if you’re shopping at stores that might not take such good care of their beer. The breweries that do date their bottles often use different formats, this site can be pretty helpful in find and decoding what a date on a given bottle means.