Is It Safe to Drink Expired Beer?

Yes—but its flavor will degrade over time.

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Beer is a perishable product that stales when it’s exposed to light, oxygen, and heat, which degrade the organic compounds that make beer smell and taste great. But even when its flavor is declining, it can be perfectly safe to drink. Here's everything you need to know.

Is it safe to drink expired beer?

The simple answer is yes, since most beer is either pasteurized or filtered to eliminate bacteria, it’s extremely resistant to spoiling. How the beer will taste is another matter.

What does expired beer taste like?

In order to taste the difference between fresh and old beer, we met with Grant Wood, senior brewing manager of the Boston Beer Company, to sample fresh lager next to one that had seen its first anniversary. (Typically, the drink-by dates on beers are four to six months out; this is based on how long the brewer thinks the beer can retain fresh flavor.) The difference was dramatic: While the fresh lager presented bright hops flavor and refreshing bitterness, the year-old bottle was distinctly malty, sweet, and, according to most tasters, “flat.” The difference was even more pronounced when we repeated the tasting with a bottle that had been forgotten in a basement for several years. 

Why does beer go bad?

According to Wood, the explanation is twofold. First, all beer contains a minute amount of oxygen, and as the aroma and flavor compounds found in hops oxidize over time, those compounds dissipate. (Conversely, certain aromatic compounds increase with prolonged exposure to oxygen, resulting in sweet, sherry-like flavors.) Second, the speed of these reactions depends on the alcohol content of the beer and how it’s stored. Refrigerating beer slows the process of aging, so always choose beer that is in the cooler not on the shelf. Beers with more alcohol by volume have a longer shelf life..

The Takeaway : To enjoy beer at its finest, buy it cold, store it in the fridge, and consume it within three to six months of packaging, or before their best-by date.

Beer consumed after the "best by" date (often located on the side of the label) tastes flatter and more sweet.

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