How Does Beer Go Bad?

So you go down to your man cave, kick up your feet, and grab a beer you’ve been keeping in the fridge. You crack that bad boy open and guzzle it down, only to be met with the unpleasant aroma and aftertaste of beer gone bad. Is there anything more upsetting?

Crashing into the stink of expired beer when you were expecting the refreshing glide of a pale ale can be a bummer. But what you need to realize is that you may have actually played a role in that beer’s trip down the rotten road.

But it’s fermented – it shouldn’t expire. Sure, if we consider the fact that other alcoholic drinks get better with age, you would probably expect that beer shouldn’t go bad. But that expiration date slapped across the neck of the bottle should tell you otherwise.

So, beer does in fact, expire. But how the heck does that happen? Read on to find out.

The Many Things That Ruin Beer

Some of the factors that can cause your beer to go bad are very real threats that we might not always recognize at first. That’s why it’s important to keep yourself in the know, since many of the things that can skunk your beer are often seen as harmless elements that aren’t much of a problem.

1. Sunlight

Ever wonder why beer comes in those dark brown bottles? The darker bottles limit the absorption of UV rays which have been known to cause chemical reactions in the composition of beer. As these reactions take place, certain components of the beer breaks down, causing a change in flavor, and ultimately, a chain reaction that leads all the way to skunking.

That’s why manufacturers will often ship out their beer at night, since it limits their exposure to sunlight. In the same way, you may want to make sure your man cave has a nice little dark nook to store beer in if you don’t have enough fridge space to spare at the moment. The same goes for bringing beer to the beach – always use a cooler with a lid! It’ll help maintain that suave, fresh, carbonated goodness for the entire affair.

2. Oxygen Exposure

The components of beer can negatively react to oxygen with extended exposure. Beer bottles are particularly at risk of oxygen contamination because their caps aren’t as securely held in place as beer cans.

As a general rule, it’s always better to store your beer upright to prevent any of the contents from making contact with oxygen in case the lid or cap has busted a crack. It also pays to handle each bottle with care, since mechanical trauma can easily cause breaks and openings in fragile bottles.

3. Bacterial Contamination

You’re not the only guy in this joint that loves the taste of a cold one. Bacteria will eat away at any food source they can find, and poorly brewed, stored, and handled beer makes a major feast. Of course, commercially sold beer is often less susceptible to bacterial colonies because manufacturers exercise every precaution to prevent that from happening.

Placing your beer in a cold environment (like your fridge, or submerged in an ice-filled cooler) can help slow down the development of bacteria, keeping your booze nice and fresh until you feel the need to guzzle.

Understanding The Shelf Life Of Beer

If you’ve ever taken the time to check out the expiration date on a can or bottle of beer, it becomes a lot easier to understand when you can start to anticipate that your booze might go bad. Beers will often list a date of manufacture. You should know that that isn’t necessarily an outright date of expiration. In fact, good beer can last up to 9 months after that date. If it’s stored in dark, cold conditions, that date can extend up to 2 years.

More importantly, it’s probably intuitive to check the manufacturing date on your beer before you make a purchase. Why? Learning more about the date when a specific batch of beer was made can help you make the right choices in the grocery store.

For instance, a bottle of beer that’s marked with a recent manufacturing date will likely last much longer than anything manufactured sooner. But there are other factors that come into play. Now, here’s where it gets complicated:

  • Packaging should play a role in your choices. Beer that was manufactured later but packaged in clear bottles may have been subjected to more UV exposure during shipping and handling compared to choices in darker packaging. So it’s possible that it might skunk sooner even if other options were manufactured earlier.
  • Popularity can affect how often the bottles are purchased and restocked. Brands and flavors that aren’t quite as popular as others might have spent more time on store shelves in unrefrigerated conditions, so they’re probably close to stretching out their 9 month limit.
  • In-store storage should also be one of your main concerns. When buying any sort of beer, you should probably try to head over to the refrigerators where they have chilled bottles and cans. These often come from the same batch as the ones they keep on display elsewhere in the store, but since they’re kept in better conditions, they’re probably more likely to last longer.

A Few Tips for Storing Beer

  • Try to purchase a dedicated beer storage fridge to maintain the proper temperatures to extend shelf life.
  • Avoid cooling corked beer bottles since it can shrink the cork and cause oxygen and bacteria to seep into the beer. Instead, store corked beer bottles upright at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Avoid freezing beer in freezers. Too much pressure in a frozen beer can or bottle can push the top off or cause a broken seal.
  • Choose darker spaces to store unrefrigerated beer to avoid exposure to UV light rays.

Final Thoughts

No man cave is complete without a secret stash of beer, but if bottles and cans go bad too often, then you might want to reconsider how you’re handling your stuff. Beer can be stored for extended periods of time if stored correctly. Just like wine, beer also does oxidize. This is the biggest enemy to your favorite brew. But to answer the question – beer does, in fact, go bad. But there are a lot of things you can do to prevent that. Follow these measures to make sure each bottle stays as fresh as possible so you can crack a cold one with the boys minus the worry of glugging down skunked ale.