UPDATE: John Latta from importer Experienceit has provided a detailed response to this post. It appears in the comments below.
Australia is a magic place when it comes to hoppy beers – when US brewers send them here they suddenly last more than twice as long as they would in America.
Seems totally counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Hops are supposed to degrade over time, not actually extend their life. But, judging by the alterations to the use-by dates on some US beers we get here, hops get a new lease on life when they’re sent here.
Luke at Ale of a Time opened my eyes to this in a Twitter conversation about the apparent life-span extension Ballast Point’s Pineapple Sculpin – and maybe other US beers – gets when it hits our shores.
So I decided to do some research. The Ballast Point dates were a bit confusing to decipher, so I picked up a can of Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo from my local Dan Murphy’s. According to this information from the Sierra Nevada site, the domestic (ie United States) expiration date for Torpedo is 150 days “if kept cool or dark” (ie not in a brightly lit bottle shop). That’s around five months.
Now, here’s are two photos of that can of Torpedo I picked up.
As you can see from the photo on the left, the can was filled with beer on November 7, 2016. But on the last line of that sticker in the pic on the right says the best before date is November 7, 2017. That’s a whole seven months more shelf life than the same beer gets in the United States. And that info from the Sierra Nevada site bluntly states the export best by date is “one year from packaged on date”, so it’s not an oversight from the Australian distributor.
But Sierra Nevada is not alone. Stone Brewing does it too, which is quite bizarre given Greg Koch’s stink-kicking a few years ago about how he wouldn’t send beer here because he couldn’t guarantee the quality. In fact, the Stone website states “To ensure that you know your beer is fresh, we’ve set shelf life limitations, or ‘code lengths’, for each of our core beers that are 120 days or less, which is among the shortest in the industry”.
I picked up a can of their Go To IPA – from Uncle Dan’s rival First Choice Liquor. This is one of their “core beers” which, in the US has a best before date of no more than three months. Now here’s a photo of the best before date on the bottom of the can I bought.
This appears to be in the US month/day dating style. And it clearly says the Go To IPA I bought in Wollongong has a one-year shelf life – or nine months longer than they’ll give it in the country in which it’s made.
Yes, it takes a month or so for the beers to get here from the US, which cuts into the three-month window. But that doesn’t justify tacking on an extra seven months to the best before date.
To me, it’s a bit rich for US brewers to complain about improper shipping affects the flavour of their beer when they seem quite happy to grossly inflate their shelf life for the Australian market – which had a similar detrimental effect on flavour.
If you’re wondering, both these beers were underwhelming. They’d lost their shape and, while all the bits and pieces were there, they were in the wrong places.
Which is exactly what you’d expect from an out-of-date IPA.