The Most Important Labels To Look For When Buying Beer

The label on your beer is trying to tell you something. Not the fun label, with the brewery logo, brew name, and beer type. Well, it's part of that label, but it's the part that's barely visible and often ignored. It's the "enjoy by" or "brewed on" stamp that is far more important than its size gives it credit for.

Believe it or not, beer can go bad. As brewmaster Mitch Steele told Imbibe Magazine, "There's a general lack of knowledge about what happens to beer when it sits in a package over time ... The biggest thing people need to understand is that beer is like bread — it's going to go stale over time. It's not going to be bad for you, but it's going to taste bready and grainy and different as it ages."

Yes, beer, like wine, takes on a different character the longer it ages. Though, unlike wine, the shelf life on beer is far shorter. Thompson Island Brewing Co. gives a general rule that bottled beer will maintain a six-month shelf life if properly refrigerated, three months if not.

Of course, not all beer is created equal. Therefore, not all beer has the same shelf life.

Buy fresh and don't get skunked

In an interview with Eating Well, Kelsey Watson, a certified level one cicerone (beer professional), explains that hoppy beers, such as IPAs, have a shorter shelf life owing to the oils in the hops breaking down more quickly. By contrast, darker beers, like lager or stout, and beers with a higher alcohol content will generally last longer.

Serious Eats explains that one of the best ways to ensure you're buying your beer in its freshest possible state is to look for the "bottled on" date stamp, with the rule of thumb being to buy the beer within 30 days of its bottling. Unfortunately, many breweries will stamp "enjoy by" dates instead, leaving you relatively unaware of when the beer was actually bottled.

There is always the possibility that your beer will, sadly, become skunked if not stored properly. Skunked beer, according to VinePair, has been at the mercy of UV rays. This only occurs in bottled beer, because light doesn't penetrate aluminum cans. Sunlight essentially excites the beer molecules and creates a compound called 3-MBT, which gives you that horrible, skunky smell.

So, here are the essential rules to follow when buying beer: Look at the date in order to buy fresh, store your beer properly, and keep your bottles out of the sun. Cheers!