Beer of the Week

Five Things About … Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA

1) Which do you prefer on your beer – a “bottled on” date or a “best before” date? Myself, I prefer the former by a long, long way. A best-before date doesn’t tell me how old the beer is – they can be three months after bottling or as many as 12 months. And there’s no way of telling; if I buy a beer this weekend with a best-before of August 2017 does that mean it was bottled a month old? Or is it 10 months old, having been bottled in August last year? Who knows?

2) But if I learned one thing from that earlier best-before date brouhaha it’s that I want to be able to decide for myself whether or not a beer is past it, not a brewery. And the only way to do that is with “bottled on” dates. I have a bit of an idea how most styles handle getting older – barleywines go great, IPAs hate getting old – so telling me when a beer went into a bottle or can gives me the information I need to decide for myself whether or not I should spend my money on that beer.

3) Which brings me to Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA. In a sign on how far craft beer has come in Australia, this and FW’s DBA are being imported by Woolworths and sold at Dan Murphy’s. Seriously, they are. Could you imagine such a thing a year or so ago? Nope, me neither.

4) While these beers suffer from the same nine-month best-before date extension that other US beers get when they turn up here, they do have a very easy to find bottling date. You don’t need to go searching for it, nor do you need to visit the brewery website to decode what it says. It’s right there on the front label, bottom-left-hand side (you can sort of see it in the picture.

5) This IPA was bottled on April 4, which meant it was just over two months old when I got my hands on it (and I was at my local Dan’s to pick up a six-pack the very day it arrived – it hadn’t even made out to the shelves). And I can taste those two months. Drinking it, I can get an idea of what it would taste like fresh (and it would taste bloody good) but I can also notice that the beer’s balance is going a bit out of whack. The fruit-citrus flavours are there – and they are good – but they don’t match the online raves I’d read about this beer. Then there’s a big thump of bitterness right in the middle that overpowers everything – I really felt like the fruit characters at the front had faded, leaving them unable to stand up to that hefty bitterness.

Free or paid for?: I bought a six-pack from Dan’s and drank two of them while making up my mind about it. I reckon it’s good enough to drink the remaining four beers, but I’ll be doing that quickly – certainly not going to leave them for another 10 months like the importer’s label says.

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