IPA freshness and bottle dating


The demand for more and more hops has caused the IPA market to grow by leaps and bounds in recent years. We not only need regular IPA’s, Double IPA’s and even Triple IPA’s but we also now require our Pale Ales to come hopped up and even some of our stouts and barleywines as well. But I’m not writing today because I have a problem with this, no, I actually love hops and have even identified the specific hop strains that I gravitate to the most (citra and simcoe).

No, I’m writing today about a serious problem I have. The ability to taste how fresh or not fresh an IPA is. I blame it on getting certain fantastic IPA’s incredibly fresh or trying them on tap for this problem. After all, when you have Heady Topper less than a week since it was canned, you are spoiled for life. And of course, a good majority of the best IPA’s on the planet, or even the best hopped up beers of other varieties don’t seem to care much for bottle dating. And yes, I’ve written a little about this before.

The biggest violator of this is of course one of the best when it comes to hoppy beers, Three Floyds. I mean, Zombie Dust, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Dreadnaught and even Gumballhead and Alpha King are known for their citrusy, amazing hop smells and flavors. But have you ever had a Gumballhead that is two months old? Yeah, it tastes like glue. And since Three Floyds refuses to bottle date, you really don’t know what you might be getting.

It’s the classic….”something about this is off” taste that is utterly disappointing and downright sad. IPAs are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible, and even though an old IPA certainly won’t kill you and at times is even pretty damn good, it’s not what the brewer intended it to be.

Of course this is why I’m such a fan of the approach Stone takes to their IPAs. Their Ruination 10th Anniversary last summer was so great that I snatched up four bottles as soon as I could. I drank one within the first week of purchase and it was fantastic, the second one was just as good a week later. Then two weeks passed and then bottle #3 was opened I started to notice the subtle changes. The hops were fading, I was starting to get some mild oxidation already from the bottle and it just wasn’t the same. Because of this, I dove into bottle #4 the next night, because you know, I had to. Of course Stone upped the anti even more with its Enjoy By series last year as well.

I realize that this might make me sound incredibly dorky, or even worse, like a total jerk, but I’ve been spoiled. So here are some simple tips to avoid drinking IPAs that are nowhere near their peak.

1. Look at the bottle date! I think if you are within a month, you are in the sweet spot for most IPAs. But after a month it can get tricky. Avoid that sixer of 60 Minute that was bottled 8-10 weeks ago, it’s not as good as you think.

2. But what about the breweries that refuse to bottle date? This makes it tricky of course, so take some things into account. First off, does the beer location you are buying from have plenty of hop heads and craft beer fans frequenting the store? If so, don’t worry. Is the beer actually in season? Don’t get all happy if you find a bottle of a summer IPA on ‘sale’ and snatch it up. And of course, I’m not above just asking someone how long the beer has been sitting around if I need to.

3. Watch out for beer (IPA and others) that come in green or clear bottles. Light is the enemy of fresh beer so if you can avoid these, please do. The consistency is bound to be lacking from pack to pack.

Finally, I think I’ve linked to this site before, but it gives you a nice list of breweries that bottle date and ones that don’t. It also gives a nice list of the breweries that bottle date and how to decode their markings.

Thanks for letting me rant….

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