So Fresh And So Clean

Fresh Beer
Fresh Beer

Expanding your beer knowledge is a good thing. Aside from improving your witty party banter, making you a veritable 'hit' at social gatherings when you carry on at length about the merits of New Zealand hops or differing Brett strains, it also does something useful -- it leads you to better beer. And yet it's true that the road to deliciousness comes at a price, because along the way you'll suddenly find yourself recoiling in disgust as you taste ancient beer, being poured from dirty lines, at bars that don't give a beep. But somewhere along the way things get easier. You learn what makes beer bad, what makes beer good, and ultimately, what (multitude of factors working together simultaneously) makes beer great. And we're here today to talk to you about one of the most important determining factors of a beer that will affect its quality: FRESHNESS.

You may have noticed recently that our hoppy beer labels are now branded with a new little crest that simply but assertively states, "Drink Fresh, Do Not Age", and we put it there because we mean it. Some patrons ask how long a beer will last, or whether or not it's okay to store it in unrefrigerated conditions, or even "when it will go bad". Of course, the answers vary depending on a variety of factors, things like the style of the beer, whether or not it's bottle conditioned, and what the alcohol content is. And although we do make a lot of barrel-aged and/or strong beers that are fine to age under the right conditions (we'll save the topic of cellaring for another blog post), the majority of our bottles at this point are best consumed fresh.

The late and great beer writer Michael Jackson once stated, in an article entitled Best Drunk When Fresh that "One of life's great but simple pleasures, widely recognized, is the aroma, taste, and satisfaction offered by truly fresh bread. Another, less well acknowledged, is the same sequence of sensuous experiences brought forth by really fresh beer."

One of the unfortunate side effects of restrictive alcohol laws in Ontario is that variety is hard to come by. Instead of selection we've become accustomed to the same consistent products in the stores that sell most of the beer (and shall not be named). Of course, consistency in and of itself is not a bad thing, it's dependable, and predictable, but when it comes to gastronomic delights it's nice to be surprised. It's nice to see new varieties and flavours that reflect the dynamic movement within such a creative industry. It's common now to see beer lovers and aficianados stock-piling the exciting releases from Ontario craft breweries (and beyond!), hoping to save some for the thinner times, and perhaps even to send to friends. The sentiment is ultimately a positive one (to preserve and share a craft product), but the results (reserving beers for a rainy day that should be consumed fresh) go against our strongest encouragements drink that brewskie now!

Beyond some sort of new age agenda to "live in the now" this advice is also based in some factual scientific evidence. The hard truth about hops is that they're quite delicate things, sensitive to light, oxygen, and, like many a facelift victim, the passing of time. The once complex bitterness, with all its many layers of fruity, earthy, floral, and arboreal flavours diminishes so quickly, and within the span of a month or two (if you decide not to heed our advice), you'll find that the beer lacks some of that brightness it once possessed. Ancient beer doesn't generally go 'bad' or 'off', in so far as it won't hurt you to drink, but it won't delight you either. And this may seem confusing, as it conflicts with the folklore of hops being a preservative in IPA's long journey from England to India, so let's clarify. Hops absolutely act as a preservative in beer and protect against microbial spoilage, but it's the aromatics they impart that can decrease quickly or even change. It's important to note that it's beer in general that we're talking about, not just Bellwoods. When you travel and go to new cities with awesome independent beer stores, you should demand freshness from them too! We're definitely guilty of traveling with extra empty suitcases solely intended for filling with foreign beer, but you should never be buying hoppy beers that are old. (We've spotted stuff as old as a year or more!). Most of the lifespan of a beer is therefore determined by the hops, but because we talked A LOT about hops on the blog a few weeks ago I'll spare you the broken record stuff and you can just go ahead and read that post HERE.

While we acknowledge that it can be frustrating when your favourite style isn't in the Bottle Shop every time you drop by, it's also a good sign that we go through beer quickly -- no beers are left to grow old on our shelves. For the purposes of discussing freshness and variety in beer, we like to use the farmer's market analogy: Just as you wouldn't expect to see fresh raspberries every weekend at your local farmer's market, so too is it unrealistic to find Roman Candle IPA in our shop each time you visit. But more importantly, it would be a pretty bad idea to put those fresh raspberries in the hot trunk of your car, transport them to your fridge, let them hibernate for 6 weeks, and then expect them to still taste amazing. The same goes for our beer and we really cringe when we learn of people drinking our hoppy beers long after being bottled.

A Big Mac could probably make it through an apocalypse but hoppy beer cannot. As it turns out, fast food chains and Bellwoods have different priorities but I'll spare you the riveting details. The message is pretty straight-forward: don't age your IPAs, carpe diem and drink that beer fresh!