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Can Beer Go Bad?

Beer is a popular alcoholic beverage, but not everyone knows whether it does expire or how long does beer last.

Those are pretty important facts about beer and if you sometimes store beer for an extended period of time, it’s good to know whether drinking it is safe. This article will give you all the information about beer you need.

Pouring beer into glass
(credit: BENCE BOROS)

How long does beer last?

Basically, the answer to this question depends on the kind of beer. Normal beers (with pretty low alcohol content), as long as the bottle or can is unopened, can last at least half a year. And when I write “can last”, I mean they’ll taste fine after opening, provided they were stored properly.

Some vintage beers (ales, lambics or stouts) have high alcohol content and they are made to last a few years. In fact, producers of those beers often recommend that they should be stored for at least a year or two before opening. That should allow the beer to age and get its distinguished taste.

Once the beer is opened, it should be drunk within a day or two. After that time, in most cases it’ll be fine, but its taste will be far from what you’ve expected (it’ll be flat). That means that there’s no sense in storing beer after opening – after two days it’ll taste stale and you’ll probably discard it either way. Of course if you want to keep it in the fridge for an hour or two, that’s fine.

Just three glasses of beer
Image used under Creative Commons from Kuba Bożanowski

Few things about storing beer. First thing you should remember is that beer doesn’t like light. Exposure to light makes beer become skunky (you probably know that skunky taste, that’s why it’s often called “skunked beer”).

To reduce the influence of light, beer is often sold in dark bottles, which eliminate some of the light (dark brown bottles protect beer better than green bottles). Nevertheless, if your beer is in a bottle, you should store it in a place where sunshine can’t reach it. If it’s in a can or a keg, it’s safe from light.

Another thing to remember – keep beer in a cool place, like in the pantry. Once it’s opened and you want to store it for a short period of time, put it into the fridge.

Does beer expire? How to tell if beer is bad?

Answering the question whether beer does expire or not is quite difficult. Every beer has an expiration date, or a “Best By” date, etc. In most cases that doesn’t mean that after that date beer will be spoiled (meaning consuming it will make you sick), but it’s an indication of how long the beer should be of best quality. After that time its quality might drop and it’ll simply be flat.

There is one exception from this rule – unpasteurised beer. Some companies choose to not pasteurize their beer (some people state that beer simply tastes better that way) and those beers usually expire within a couple of weeks. If your beer isn’t pasteurized and it’s after the expiration date, it might still be good, but in many cases it’ll be simply spoiled.

Frosted mug with beer
(credit: Patrick Fore)

Spotting a spoiled beer is pretty easy. You just need to examine its looks, smell and taste. If there is a major change in color or beer’s odor, or it tastes horribly (don’t confuse horribly with flat or skunky) discard it. If not, feel free to drink it, if it satisfies your taste buds.

If it was stored for a very long time, it might not taste that good and you’ll probably throw it away either way.

As you can see, the answer to the main question is affirmative, beer can go bad. If it’s a pasteurized beer, it happens extremely rarely, but it might happen. Storing beer for an extended period of time, however, isn’t beneficial to the beer and if it’s a standard lager, it’s better to consume it before the “Use By” date.