Does beer go bad? In a word, yes.


It happened again. You let that half-empty jug of milk sit past its best-by date. Way past its best-by date. You remove the cap, take a cautious sniff … then retch and promptly chuck the whole thing in the trash.


While old beer doesn’t produce quite the same visceral reaction, bottling or drink-by dates should be given the same consideration. If you’ve ever ordered a beer you thought you liked and found it unexpectedly flat or nasty, you’re familiar with the concept. Discovering you’re sipping a skunky lager or hop-less IPA is as disheartening to the brewer as it is to the consumer, according to 4 Hands brewery manager Martin Toft.


“After (the drink-by date), the beer isn’t going to be bad for you or unsafe to drink, it’s just not going to be the same beer that we want the consumers to drink,” Toft said.


That IPA you saved for a special occasion? Celebrate soon. In general, hoppy beers like IPAs and American pale ales should be consumed as soon as possible and definitely within two to three months.


“Those really bright, vibrant hop aromas will fall off, and it can start to get cardboard-y, sometimes kind of cheesy is another descriptor for old hops – a lot of really unpleasant flavors and aromas,” Toft said. “All those really pungent, citrusy, fruity, tropical flavors and aromas you find in IPAs, those are the ones that fall off the fastest.”


Less hop-forward styles with lower ABVs like Pilsners and blond ales can hold out a little longer, Toft said, but no more than six months. Sours and robust, high-gravity stouts can cellar quite nicely for years in the right conditions, but be warned – you may lose delicate flavor notes like vanilla and coffee.


“There are a lot of beers that cellar well, which means that they aren’t going to age as rapidly as other styles, but we put that beer in package because we wanted you to drink it right away,” Toft said.


Bottom line: Drink up. “If it’s in that bottle, it’s in there for a reason.”


Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.