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Nine month Best Before dates “ridiculous” says Beer Professor

July 7, 2017

Professor Charlie

Professor Charlie Bamforth has described the nine month Best Before dates applied to beers  in England as ‘ridiculous’, a view which raises questions about the move to twelve month dates in Australia.

Professor Bamforth, who is the keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian Craft Brewers Conference, made the comments in a recent episode of the US-based The Session podcast.

In the podcast he cautioned that freshness is the biggest technical challenge facing any brewer, saying that the golden rule is that beer will age three times faster for every 10°C increase in temperature.

“In a room where the temperature was 20°C, a beer is going to last 3 months. But if you increase the temperature by ten degrees to 30°C, it’s one month. And if it’s 40°C, which it is in my garage in Davis in the middle of summer, it’s a week,” he said.

His comments have implications for brewers committing their beers to long distribution channels under Australian conditions, as well as being relevant to recent discussions around beer freshness and storage.

During the interview he recounted a recent study trip to an English brewery.

“We went to a brewery in the south of England – and they do put a Best Before date on beer in England, nine months is what they put on, which is ridiculous,” he said.

“There was beer in the warehouse of this brewery, and it was four months old before it had even been shipped out of the warehouse, and it wasn’t a refrigerated warehouse, so it’s stale.”

“People are kidding themselves if they think they are getting fresh product, they are not in some parts of the world.”

In the extensive and free-ranging discussion about beer freshness, Professor Bamforth said that US industry leaders felt the problem was particularly acute with hoppy beers.

“I used to say the worst problem was with the gently flavoured beers, because they reveal the staleness more obviously,” he said.

“But people like Ken [Grossman] and Vinnie [Cilurzo] say, ‘we worry about our hoppy beers, because they are the most rapid ones to change.”

He said that brewers can take whatever control they like in the brewhouse, and that will help, but they will never be happy with the stability of their beer.

“Beer does change with time, any beer will change and deteriorate with time. There are a number of big enemies, but the major ones are oxygen and heat,” he advised.

“With the best will in the world, beer is going to age, it’s as simple as that. There is no magic bullet, there is nothing that [a brewer] can do in which will say, ‘if I do this, it’s never going to stale.”

“One of the main points I make in [his new book, Freshness: Practical Guides for Beer Quality], is that no matter what the beer is, the lower the oxygen level in the finished beer and the lower the temperature at which you store the beer, the fresher it will remain for longer.”

“If you haven’t invested in refrigerated distribution and if your packaging line is giving you crazy high levels of oxygen in the bottle, you’re wasting your time. Work from the back.”

“That’s where it’s all at. The first people to educate are the customers,” he advised.

Professor Bamforth is the keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian Craft Brewers Conference.

He will also be the special guest at a special Q&A with Professor Bamforth, which will be streamed live on our Facebook page. Brisbane readers can purchase tickets to the event and have a beer with him on 5 August 2017.


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7 Responses to Nine month Best Before dates “ridiculous” says Beer Professor

  1. Lawrence Adegeye on July 18, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    I fully agree with the points raised by Prof Bamfort. Heat load at any stage of beer processing is as damaging as oxygen ingress. During processing, brewers can go to any length to prevent oxygen from getting excessively into the beer and also try as much as possible to avoid hold ups at hot zones but, some of the after processing effects need extra efforts e.g condition of transportation and handling condition by the customers(distributors and retailers) most especially in the tropical regions where atmospheric temperature is always high most part of the year and during hot weather in other countries. Heat load and light struck are major issues. A lot of awareness campaign/education is needed to sensitize people along the distribution channels.

  2. Koop van Dalen on July 16, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    The brewer makes the quality, the distributer maintains it.

  3. Ruud Kolkman on July 14, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    I fully agree with the remarks of prof Bamforth. Oxygen and heatload during processing are well known factors related with beer staling. Perhaps good to mention is a potential inhibition of lipoxygenase enzijme activity in relation with higher mashing-in temperatures (> 60 C).
    And last but not least the dark horse in relation with beer staling; the quality of the raw materials and especially maltquality.

  4. Gary Gillman (@beeretseq) on July 7, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I haven’t had a chance as yet to listen to the full broadcast (I will), but did pasteurization come up? What effect if any did he feel it has on best-by dates? These are more typically one year for European imports we get in Canada.

    What about bottle-conditioned vs. filtered and unpasteurized?

    In general, freshest is always best, but in my experience, bottle-matured beer such as SN sells at most will suffer from lessening of hop aroma but 6-12 months won’t hurt their essential character despite varying storage conditions.


    • Editor on July 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Pasteurisation did come up…well worth a full listen.

    • Franck P Berges on July 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      As one of the oldest and most professional established beer importing co.in Australia we will not import a beer under 6.5% alc/vol if it is not pasteurized…..Unfortunately most imported “craft” beers tasted by our internal panel are really hardly fit for drinking as they are not “all along the distribution line ” refrigerated and certainly older than the 90 days BB they are originally brewed for .

      • Evan Evans on July 16, 2017 at 9:41 am

        I rely on the German Maxim, “drink the beer that is made in the town you are in” or in Australia, the state you are in and particularly for craft and even crafty beer. Still if you take the precautions that Sierra Nevada does for transportation, refrigerated containers, then you might get lucky. Of course, look for retailers that put their beers in fridges….

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