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Nov 26, 2008 09:57 AM

How long does beer last?

A colleague at work just got rid of a great sampler of beers, but I'm afraid they might be 5 years old or even more. There's some Lindeman's lambic, Orval, Ommegang, etc. -- I guess I can just open them and sample them, but what are the chances that they're all bad?

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  1. Beer in my place is lucy if it lasts through half time...

    2 Replies
    1. re: bnemes3343

      A lot depends on how they have been stored. If it's been in a cool and dark place then they should be fine, and in the case of the beers you mentioned, perhaps it even improved and smoothed out the taste.

      Now if they have been stored in heat and/or with a lot of exposure to light, then that's another story. Like you said, why not crack them open and give them a try.

      bnemes3343, where can I find some of this "lucy" beer? ;-)

      1. re: Whisper

        Whoops... probably had one too many lucky beers.

    2. Depends on the beer. Last week I had a bottle of Thomas Hardy's ale that was 21 years old and it was great. Next week I'm opening a bottle of ale that was brewed in 1946, aged 20 years in wood, and finally bottled in 1966. I expect some sherry notes, but also expect it to be quite tasty.
      The bottles you mention may be fine, but a lot depends on how they were stored. If stored at room temperature all that time, with lots of temp fluctuations, I wouldn't expect too much from them...but then again...
      In any case, be sure to report back!!

      8 Replies
      1. re: The Professor

        What's the second beer called? Sounds pretty great.

        1. re: Shaggy

          I'm guessing the second beer is Ballantine Burton Ale

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            Precisely. Though it was undoubtedly at it's peak at the time it was bottled (having already been long-aged and periodically topped up solera style in one of Ballantine's gi-normous wooden tanks), it still tasted pretty remarkable considering it was brewed 6 years before I was born, and not bottled until I was around 14.

            The massive hop presence that defined this and other Ballantine brews had long since faded, but underneath the mild sherry notes was a pleasant 'woody' character and a rather impressive and surprising maltiness, and not even the slightest hint of any oxidation or other spoilage. It was pretty remarkable even it's faded state; this was probably one hell of a brew when it was at it's peak (rather like Ballantine's IPA, which many ale lovers still agree leaves most of the current crop of IPAs in the dust).

            Since my original post, I've consumed another bottle (I still have 5 left with varying bottling dates) with identical results.

            1. re: The Professor

              Speaking of Ballantine's IPA... Looks like they are bringing it back...

              1. re: Insidious Rex

                Ballantine IPA was a lifesaver 30 years ago on the east coast. Now it's a different time, and I am my old skeptical self.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  yes I prefer to use the terms "old and dubious" myself. Or is that "old and in the way"? Either way it keeps people off my lawn. But Ill admit Ill try this one as soon as I see it. Not expecting to be impressed but part of me always holds out hope when it comes to these things...

                  1. re: Insidious Rex

                    The Ballantine IPA we got back in the '80s wasn't the greatest, but it was better than most alternatives at the time, at least for someone not on the left coast.

                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                      Agree about the Bally IPA in the ' was definitely fairly "meh" by that time due to changes the formula had undergone moving from brewery to brewery.

                      However the Ballantine IPA we got in the '60s and early/mid '70s was, on the other hand, a pretty awesome beer...a lot more characterful and certainly more complex than just about any IPA made today.

                      The current revival is definitely a noble try. I finally had some last night.
                      It's decent enough, and in truth, pretty well made... but having said that, in the end it really doesn't bear significant resemblance to the original product. Understandable, since they weren't able to use the original recipe (it couldn't be found anywhere) and they certainly didn't use the original procedures (it would be too expensive) there's no way it could be authentically re-created (although oddly, homebrewed versions have come surprisingly close).

                      But I'll definitely give Pabst points for trying.
                      I wonder if they are committed enough to the brand that it will get some tweaks down the line?

      2. I literally just got back from the pub after having had an Orval that was labeled with a born on date of Sept 08 and a consume by date of Sept 2013.

        1. A 12-pack might last me a week. ;)

 depends on the beer, the way it's stored, probably your relationship with the beer gods. I have a bottle of Sam Adams Triple Bock that must be five years old, and I've been assured it only improves with age. I think we'll pop the cork this weekend. I've also recently had Cooper's Sparkling Ale that I'd had in the fridge for over a year, and it was lovely--also the sediment had *really* settled. I frequently buy last season's microbrews deeply discounted at a local shop, and only once have I had one explode--and that's probably because I rarely refrigerate beer in the colder months.

          So give it a go; just be sure to have something fresh on hand in case the older stuff doesn't taste good. I doubt there's anything in old beer that can kill you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kinnexa

            "I have a bottle of Sam Adams Triple Bock that must be five years old"

            IIRC, SATB was only brewed and bottled a few times in the mid-1990's, so your bottle is easily a decade old or more. BBC (or it's distributors) continues to release and sell them, however. (A search of the 'net will turn up ways to tell which vintage you have, I'm sure.)

            'I've been assured it only improves with age."

            Did ya get that "assurance" in writing? <g> Now, at the risk of sound like a Beatles song, some folks might respond, "... it can't get no worse...".

            I don't necessarily agree with many of the negative reviews the beer gets, but it is, maybe more than any other beverage that's been marketed as "beer", an "acquired taste". One that, after that first sip or two, many choose to never acquire. I won't mention one of the major comparisons that many people make since it might ruin the experience for you since you'll be prejudiced and thinking of it as you go into it.

            I find SATB, uh, "interesting" and have a bottle or two every year (actually had a case from the first vintage-- long story--.).

            " only once have I had one explode"

            An exploding bottle is not the result of an aged beer, but an improperly bottled one. No beer, regardless of age, should explode- that's the result of too much residual sugars left in a bottle with active yeast or, more likely given the time factor, an infection.

            All beers "change" as they sit in a bottle, whether they're pasteurized, filtered and/or bottle conditioned. Most of those "changes"- for the vast majority of beers- are seen as negative- or at least used to. Certainly that's so for the brewers of said beers- it's why most give their beers very short "shelf lives" of 2 months to a year- and have developed and used the above processes (pasteurization, etc)- they DON'T want their beers to "change" after bottling and before they're consumed.

            The beers that benefit from "cellaring" (a term I've always preferred over "aging", which, to me, should be used to describe the process that's done by the brewery and , in most cases, in bulk and *before* bottling) are usually higher alcohol beers that can stand up to the normal changes or benefit from some of those changes (a blending and mellowing of flavors, especially the "hot" alcohol burn of many high ABV beers).

            There's no doubt that beers with less alcohol and/or herbs, spices, bottle conditioning and some other Belgian styles are nowadays being kept and drank long after "normal" lengths. Some folks find what were once considered "defects" interesting and drinkable changes in the beers. For others people, it's not so easy. (I guess if you love and have only drank fresh milk, your first taste of yogurt might not be too positive, either <g>.)

            Even tho' I have a cellar of several hundred bottles of beer, I sometimes can't get past some of the effects of age on those beers- "That ain't 'aged', that's just old..." I'll think.

            (Of course, all that said and back to the OP's question- I'd definitely try all the beers he mentioned. If you're going "find" a bunch of five year old beers, those are some of the ones I'd want to find.)

            I'm always reminded of a Fritz Maytag quote (who was once shocked that people were cellaring his under-6%ABV Anchor "Our Special Ale"). Tho' unrelated to "aging", it's about a somewhat similar situation in this "brave new world of beer" where there are no longer hard and fast rules or statements about "beer":

            "Unfortunately, (early batches of Anchor Steam Beer) was frequently not very good. It was sour. That’s one reason I can’t drink Belgian-style beers. I realize they are perfectly legitimate, but I made beer like that by accident for quite a while, and I just can’t stand it."


          2. Hey chowpatty.
            The Orval and Ommegang are what is known as bottle conditioned; that is, there's still potentially-active yeast in the bottle. Depending upon the condition the bottles were stored in, they could actually be in pretty good shape, because the yeast counteracts any potential infection, and helps ward off the ``bad'' kind of aging. Think of them as wines; bottle-conditioned beers evolve over time. Often, it's for the better, at least for a while. The Ommegang should be lovely. The Orval might be an aquired taste. It already has a tart edge when fresh. After five years, any residual sugars left in it will have been fermented right out, and it will be bone dry. It could be quite interesting. The lambic could be hit or miss, though it probably won't be as good as the other two.
            All the things I've said, however, are contingent upon the beers being stored well. Too hot, and the yeast could have died. Too cool, and it would have gone dormant. Let us know how it all turns out!