Does Beer Expire? What You Should Know & Do

by Karl | Updated: August 12, 2021

The Beer that You Bought – When Does it Expire?

Did you know that in 2018, U.S. beer industry saw sales of over 202.2 million barrels of beer? Beer’s popular the world over – however, how do you store it?

All of us, at some point, have wondered about the quality of beer after it’s said to have “gone bad”. Does beer really expire? If not, then what exactly happens once it goes beyond its mentioned expiration date? These are some of the questions that shall be discussed here. 

We look to explain these myths. As a beer aficionado, for instance, you need to be aware of what is healthy and tasty, especially because alcohol costs a bomb.

Does beer expire?

First things first- beer does not really expire. It does go bad though. To understand the difference better, let us understand that beer is basically alcohol. This alcohol percentage is calculated in terms of Alcohol by Volume or ABV. Beers generally have an ABV between 3 and 13.

Beers that have higher alcohol content, meaning those lying towards the higher end of this spectrum, generally stay fresh and consumable for a longer time. 

There are beers that have and can be aged, example the Indian Pale Ale and most strong ales, lagers and pilsners. These are very strong and can obviously not be consumed on a regular basis.

But the beers with weaker potencies do have an expiration date which needs to be adhered to. They are the ones that lose their fresh taste.

What happens if we drink expired beer?

Nothing much, except probably a lifelong revulsion to beer of any kind shall develop. It is the right kind of sourness, acidity and effervescence that makes up any beer when it is fresh.

Upon exceeding its expiration date, the beer will turn stale. There will be no foam left and sourness shall become the dominant flavour. You really wouldn’t want to put such a foul substance in your mouth.

How does the Packaging of Beer affect its Quality?

The answer is-in multiple ways. With the advent of procuring of obscure beer, online delivery and even for retail purposes, beer has to be transported over long distances. Sometimes this transportation even takes place via flight.

For this reason, we have two kinds of packaging –bottles and cans. Both are equally loved by consumers but there are pros and cons to each kind of packaging. 

Which one should you buy? Which one makes more sense for your budget? 

The bottle packaging is extremely impractical when we wish to transport beer over long distances which shall expose them to sunlight and air. Let’s also not forget that these bottles are primarily made of glass which does not help their case anyway. 

They are tough to take care of and chances of damage and the beer losing its freshness are high. Who can forget that glass is also not quite environment-friendly and is not as frequently recycled as we would want it to be.

To counter this, let’s look at how cans are basically taking over the market. They are obviously in vogue due to advertisements that have celebrities chugging drinks in them. 

Apart from the aesthetic satisfaction, cans provide for easy transportation and also retain the effervescence and freshness of the beer due to non-exposure to sunlight. It works for and with your beer in more ways than one. 

Additionally, cans have a smaller carbon footprint than bottles and are made out of more recycled material than bottles, so we know which way to go if going green is our resolution.

How long does beer stay fresh after opening?

Ideally you should open the beer only when you actually wish to drink it because it loses foam as soon as it is opened. After that it shall not taste as sharp as it might have in the first few seconds after opening.

While opening and leaving it in the refrigerator for a few hours won’t make it inconsumable, it will definitely not taste its best.

Does Beer Go Bad?

Have you ever left cooked food in the fridge for too long and it spoiled? Were you counting on milk for your breakfast, saw it spoiled and had to go without eating?

Then you may have a slight idea of the desolation that comes with having a beer go bad.

Don’t worry if you can’t fathom the idea; it’s understandable. However, no one deserves having to go through such a loss. With that in mind, read below to learn how to avoid it–or not let your beverage pass in vain.

How long does beer last?

As you may know, beer comes with a label indicating its lifespan. What you don’t know is that beer can last for long after the stated date.

Companies must set a preferable period for consuming their beer. It helps to ensure its quality and flavor remains the way it’s supposed to. Regardless, it doesn’t mean that the beer becomes undrinkable the moment it reaches the dreaded day.

Many factors determine how long cold ones last. Here is what you need to know.

Average shelf life of a beer.

As stated, beers have an “expiration date” marked on the bottle or can, but that’s more of a guideline than law. It’s mostly for brewers to guarantee that customers won’t drink one that doesn’t taste as it should.

To be precise, beer usually lasts for six or nine months after what the label tells you. Cans are most likely to last longer than bottles; darker bottles last longer than clear ones.

While they don’t rot instantly, they lose their qualities. They may go flat and lose the foam, but they’re still drinkable.

What makes a beer go bad?

Beer is susceptible to many elements. While it’s the most-consumed alcoholic beverage, it’s also one of the easiest to spoil if left unguarded.

If you want your beer to last longer, you want to keep an eye on it. Brewers are very attentive to their product, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of measures to ensure your enjoyment. When it comes to beer, there are three main enemies you want to avoid. They’re light, oxygen, and any bacteria hanging around. They hate beer, and this is how they act on it.

  • Light.

Ultraviolet light has an effect on beer that’s similar to the one it has on your skin: harmful.

You shouldn’t leave your beer sitting under the sun for too long. If you do, the UV rays react with a chemical compound from the hops.

Hops are what gives each beer its distinct flavor. As such, the UV rays attack the center of your life. It gets worse! This reaction goes on until your beer ends up smelling like skunk spray. Yes, that’s the reason why dark bottles are so popular.

  • Oxygen.

Oxidation is what we know as aging. Oxygen interacts with the beer in the same way it does with everything. It breaks down the chemical compounds, and this generates different flavors for the beer.

What happens mostly is that the beer acquires a butter-like flavor. Oxygen can also react with other elements, and this causes different flavors. It can even end up tasting like cardboard! Bottled beers suffer from it more than cans. The latter tend to have a better seal, and beer comes in less contact with the air.

  • Bacteria.

Everything decays over time, and microbes are what cause it. Luckily, it takes a long time; alcohol preserves it naturally, for bacteria can’t survive in it. Commercial beer is also less prone to microbes. Brewers have better tools to minimize possible contamination.

Another great way to keep microorganisms away from your life nectar is to refrigerate it. Their life cycle slows down in the cold, and the yeast in ales does the same.

How to make beer last longer?

Now you know what makes your beer go bad, so it should be easier to think about how to prevent it. Keeping your beer in the right shape is nothing but keeping it away from what we just talked. We already mentioned some methods to increase your beer’s life span.

It’s all about how you store beer. The secret to keeping your drinks in the best shape possible boils down to how and where you store it. Here are some tips for doing it correctly.

  • Refrigeration.

Using a refrigerator to keep your beer is wise. First, it slows the beverage’s aging process, maintaining yeast and microbes growing slowly.

It also blocks the UV light outside the fridge. You effectively kill two birds with one stone. It’s best to store your beer at around 53 degrees, maybe a bit colder with cans.

It may be challenging to balance the temperature between the best one for storage and the best one for serving. That’s why specialized beer fridges exist.

  • Keep it somewhere dark.

As you know by now, UV light isn’t good for your beer. Sure, coolers keep the sun away from your beer, but what if you want to keep it at room temperature?

You can choose a room that’s cool and dark. The best place is a completely dark one. It’s important to note that blue light can also do some damage to your beer.

The best place for storing it is your basement or even a closet. Make sure they’re clean and as isolated as possible, so you don’t risk the bottles getting dirty or tipped over.

  • Leave it upright.

Do you remember what oxygen does to your beer? It’s also important to remember that gas travels upwards. With that in mind, you should keep your beer upright. Even if you keep the beer in your best fridge, it won’t hurt to store it this way.

By doing that, only the smallest portion of the beer comes in contact with the air. It slows down the oxidation process considerably.

On the other hand, keeping a bottle on its side does the opposite. It increases the surface area available to oxygen for speeding up the process.

  • Cans and bottles.

Lastly, you may have noticed that we keep mentioning bottles and cans individually. That’s because what contains the beer is critical for its duration.

Cans are always the best choice. They seal the contents from the exterior, and it’s almost impossible for any element to enter. After cans, the second-best is dark bottles. While they let sunlight reach beer, they greatly diminish its effects.

Lastly, green bottles offer much less protection, but they’re better than clear glass. The latter provides zero barriers against this threat.

How long is beer good for?

Beer spoiling doesn’t mean death. Beer can last for a long time after the recommended date. However, beer can still be “drinkable” for a long time after it starts tasting different.

The issue is that beer is supposed to taste excellent. Knowing it lasts forever is less important than knowing when it starts to lose its flavor. Old beer can be great, but skunked beer is a whole different issue. It’s when things start to get ugly. Since avoiding it should be your objective, we’ll delve into it.

Skunked Beer.

Skunked beer is the archetype of spoiled beer. It tastes and smells like the scent of a skunk; it’s because the chemical composition is the same. Skunked beer has seen descriptions like having a rubbery feel.

A more specific account is that it’s like burned rubber. Others say it’s musty, like cat musk.

Finally, others agree that it’s like a combination of skunk scent and a particularly musty basement. Oxidized beer is also called skunked beer now and then. In this case, the taste is closer to paper or cardboard.

What makes a beer “skunked”?

While oxidized beer gets called “skunked” sometimes, the real reason isn’t oxygen but blue light.

This type of light comes from either the Sun or fluorescent lightbulbs. It creates isohumulones when it reaches a cold one. The component reacts with the hydrogen sulfide from yeast and creates mercaptan.

Here’s where it gets icky.

Mercaptan is also known as the chemical compound found in skunk secretion. That’s why it’s called “skunked beer”. The reaction is fast as well. It may take a day or two for a beer to change completely, but it only needs a few minutes under strong sunlight for the flavor to start changing.

Misconceptions about skunked beer.

Skunked beer can be a mystery for many. From how it originates to why it smells so bad, there are may questions. However, some questions are answered the first time incorrectly, and they stay like that forever. It’s time to stop that.

  • Origin of the flavor.

Some people believe that skunked beer comes from leaving your cold beer reach room temperature. Others are certain that the skunk is part of the brewing methods of some brands. They all have one thing in common: being wrong.

We already stated that a chemical process generates the aroma. In fact, connoisseurs of the fine arts of beer crafting also call it “lightstruck” beer.

  • Light exposure required.

All it takes for the skunk to begin is UV light reaching the beer. Once it happens, the reaction between the rays and the compounds in your beverage starts. Most people believe that the process takes hours or days for the change to be noticeable. However, the reaction begins as soon as the contact occurs.

In reality, you can leave a clear glass with beer for a minute under direct sunlight. When you pick it up and taste it, you’ll be able to feel the change. Be careful of where you leave your pint!

  • Skunk is part of the beer.

Skunked beer has become so common that many believe it’s the intended taste in some brands. No, skunked beer isn’t intentional. Who would want their beer to taste like skunk secretions?

The bottle plays an important part, but it’s not always that brewers decide how stores and supermarkets keep their product.

Many believe that Corona or Heineken are supposed to taste with a little skunk. However, if you drink them from a can instead of a bottle, you’ll notice a big difference.

If your drink tastes skunky, it’s time to get your beer from somewhere else.

What to do with Skunked Beer?

We know it’s tough to lose a cold one to skunking, but letting it go to waste makes everything worse. Your beer doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. You don’t deserve to be the guy who let his beer die in vain.

There are other uses for skunked beer, so read below to learn how to give a better farewell to your refreshing partner.

  • Use it for cooking.

You can create some exotic flavors by using skunked beer when cooking. You should use it sparingly to avoid ruining the taste with the strong skunk. However, using it to boil sausages or making marinades isn’t a bad idea. It’s important to note that the level of “skunkness” plays a massive role in this method.

The longer you leave your beer to skunk, the harder it’ll be to produce a tasty dish.

  • Pour it on your lawn.

Some people use spoiled beer as fertilizer for their lawn. Live yeast won’t do anything to it, but dead yeast and the other nutrients in your drink will. In this case, it’s better to let your skunked beer get stronger.

The alcohol shouldn’t damage anything unless its alcohol content is high. The best you can do in this case is to test it on a small and secluded spot. This method could be the best for that beer that you left in the sun for a week.

  • Turn it into vinegar.

It’s easy to find a brewer that recommends this. After all, vinegar is essentially wine left to spoil. It’s easy to find a good use for the vinegar once you make it. All you have to do is control “how” the beer goes bad.

Vinegar has a strong flavor naturally, but you still don’t want the skunk to be too noticeable. You’re using it for cooking, after all, but you don’t need to stress as much about the skunk.

If your beer perishes, you can still salvage its soul by distilling it into this type of “whiskey”. Yes, it may get you in trouble, but it’s still better than letting it go to waste.

The important part about doing this is to be careful about fusel alcohols. They’re responsible for the infamous “moonshine blindness.”

Another issue is that a single spoiled beer won’t yield much, and you’ll have to hand it over to someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • Bait snails with it.

Snails are a pain for people trying to keep their garden pretty. They can wreck your lawn, so it’s vital to keep them at bay. The good thing is that beer attracts them. Snails feel drawn towards it and then drown after falling into it. Leaving a dish with beer outside overnight is sure to capture many of them.

The best part is that it works even if you only lost half of your bottle.

  • Use it as shampoo or soap (seriously).

Beer can make hair shine, and it also fights dandruff. To achieve beer shampoo isn’t complicated. You only need to boil the beer until it’s half the original volume. It eliminates the alcohol that could damage your hair.

After that, all you need to do is mix it with any shampoo and pour it into a bottle.

The process should eliminate or reduce the skunk smell, but you can add other elements to make it more pleasant.

  • Mix it with other ingredients.

Again, you can’t let your beer get too skunked if you want this to work.

However, mixing slightly-skunked beer with other ingredients can produce exciting results. A light skunk can give a new feel to a bitter cocktail or similar beverages. The more you like bitter drinks, the more you can let it get skunked. Keep in mind that these flavors aren’t suitable for everyone.

  • Just drink it!

Skunked beer isn’t harmful. It only tastes bad. If you only allowed a few minutes of sunlight, you may not even notice the change! That’s especially true if you already had a few beers before.

Additionally, you can always give it to someone who loves beer intensely or who likes exotic flavors. We all know people like that.

If anything, you can play anything with your friends and make the loser drink the skunked beer!

How do we properly store beer then?

The most important things to be kept in mind while storing beer are:

Keep the bottle/can upright:

Why? This will allow the yeast to settle down and allow the beer to develop its original flavour. Storing beer on its side is a myth. This will create a yeast ring which will cause it to taste awful.

Store it in a cool place:

Ideally refrigeration is the best way to do it. Even room temperature is not the way to go. You will only speed up its organic decaying by allowing it exposure to any sort of heat.

But, also be careful not to keep it in the freezer, because like water, beer can also freeze and that’s not your ideal way to consume it.

Keep it in a dark place:

As mentioned above, sunlight definitely does not have a positive effect on beers or else why would suppliers go the extent of using cans? Keep beer away from heat and light. Period.

Nobody needs flat, sour, bad beer after a long, hot day at work. So keep it cool, in the dark and fresh.

Conclusion

These are some of the myths and ill-information surrounding beer. We have tried to dispel some of them and make you understand that beer, to be enjoyed at its optimum needs to be stored and checked well. 

Keep track of the bottles or cans at your place and try not to drink them after they have gone past their expiration date. Else, be ready to bid adieu to your love for this beverage because it’s never going to taste the same to you again.

Save yourself some trauma and be an informed beer consumer. Take these small steps to ensure that nothing happens to your precious, expensive beverage. 

 

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.