“Making freshness a selling point is kind of like Coors wanting to own cold,” Magee says. It’s a lever.” That’s especially true when it comes to styles.IPAs and more delicate, lower-ABV styles like pilsners and kölsch are best consumed quickly, while higher-strength stouts, barley wines, and Belgian-style ales can better endure time’s tick-tock.“We felt there was enough interest in the industry at that time that we needed to make the change ASAP.”Stone Brewing has long made freshness a philosophical cornerstone.
Date codes give folks the ammunition to make educated purchasing decisions.The difference between OK beer and great beer can be a matter of time.Moreover, storing a beer in direct sunlight starts the chemical reaction causing skunking.“While transparency is important, educating people that freshness is about more than just date codes is also important,” he writes.“It’s a fine hammer to drive in a nail.”Lagunitas’s packaging uses the Julian date, followed by the batch number and time. (The Julian date is composed of the year and day of the year; Lagunitas writes November 17, 2016, as 321 6.) Figuring out a beer’s birthday requires a little beer-aisle math.
“We see freshness as an important business between us and our distributors,” Magee says. The consumer should expect that the beer we’re delivering should be fresh.”But not everyone fully entrusts distributors with being the freshness police.
Mobile packager Iron Heart Canning stamps most every can (a minority of breweries decline) with the packaging run’s date.
“We try to strongly encourage it,” says CEO Tyler Wille.
“It takes a coordinated effort, from the brewer to the packager, to the distributor.”In addition to consumer-friendly dates, Stone’s bottles feature a laser-etched serial code that, Tiernan says, essentially features traceability down to the hop in the field.
“The date code is really for freshness,” he says, later adding, “One is a control thing on the back end, and frankly, one is a control on the front end.”So is putting information in customers' palms, via transparent date codes, the way forward for breweries? “Just looking at date codes is only part of the picture,” writes Sierra Nevada’s Bennett. For an unpasteurized beer, every 18 degrees Fahrenheit above optimal storage temperature (32–45 degrees) slices shelf life in half.
“People deserve to have beers at their freshest point,” Stone’s Tiernan says.