The Surprising Truth About How Long Beer Lasts (& What to Do When It Spoils)

We know beer is one of the things many people love to drink and enjoy, so naturally, you want to make sure it’s still fresh and good to drink.

But how long does beer last? Are there any signs that tell you to throw it away? Let's dive in and explore these questions.

Is Beer Perishable?

Most beers are perishable and can easily go bad. If left in the wrong conditions for too long, beer can become sour, skunky, and have off-flavors.

The biggest culprit of causing beer to go bad is exposure to heat, light, and oxygen, although oxygen is the least likely of the three. Therefore, if beer is stored in a cool, dark place, it should remain in drinkable condition for around five to six months after the beer has been bottled or canned.

How Long Does Beer Last?

Generally speaking, beer can last between 3-6 months when it is stored in a cool, dark place and away from direct sunlight or heat source. If the beer is improperly stored, such as in a hot or humid environment, then the beer will deteriorate more quickly, often within a month or two.

However, for the best flavor, it is recommended to drink the beer within 3-6 months of purchase, as the flavor molecules can start to break down over time and give the beer an unusual, off-taste. Keeping the beer in a refrigerator can also help ensure its freshness. In addition, certain beers may have a “best before” date or expiration date printed on them which indicates the recommended time within which the best flavor can be enjoyed.

Causes of Beer Spoilage

Beer can spoil over time due to a variety of causes. The most common cause of beer spoilage is oxidation. This occurs when oxygen is introduced to the beer, causing it to become stale and giving it an off-putting taste.

Another common cause of beer spoilage is contamination by microorganisms like bacteria or wild yeast, which can convert sugars in beer into sour-tasting acids.

Other causes of beer spoilage include light exposure, excessive heat, and contamination from dirty equipment.

How to Tell When Beer Has Gone Bad

Unfortunately, beer does have the potential to go bad. It can start to taste sour, develop an off-flavor, or become flat. Visually, you can tell when beer has gone bad if there is a film or sediment on the surface or if the color or carbonation has changed. In general, it's best to consume your beer within the time frame indicated on its label, which usually ranges between 3–6 months.

If your beer is past its prime, you may notice it smells 'skunky,' which comes from UV light reacting with the hops. Another sign is the beer has a metallic, sour or vinegar-like molecular off-flavor. It's always best to err on the side of caution and discard any beer that doesn't smell or taste fresh.

Preventative Measures to Keep Beer Fresh

To keep beer fresh, there are a few preventative measures that you should take. For starters, both bottles and cans should always be stored properly in a cool and dark place. Sunlight causes beer to go bad quickly due to exposure to UV radiation, so make sure any beer is kept in a place out of direct sunlight. Additionally, beer should always be kept at an appropriate temperature. Too warm and the flavors of the beer can be affected, so try and keep temperatures in the range of 45-55°F (7-13°C).

To minimize oxygen exposure, beer should be kept in an upright position. If beer is stored horizontally, the beer will come into contact with oxygen more easily, so always keep the containers upright whenever possible. Lastly, be sure to check the best before date stamped on the bottle or can and don't let the beer sit too long. If it smells off or tastes bitter, it’s best to dispose of it.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, beer generally does go bad due to oxidation, over time, and different environmental conditions. This is why it's important to store your beer correctly and not leave it in extreme temperatures for an extended period, to ensure that it stays fresh and enjoyable for as long as possible. Beer is a great beverage to enjoy, so practice proper storage to make sure that your beer remains at its best.