Three Threads

Three Threads by | Mar 2009 | Issue #26

Beer freshness is a growing concern for many consumers and often becomes an issue at the retail level. Would you be for or against a national “packaged on” date standard, and why?

Ron Jeffries
Chief Mischief Maker, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Michigan)
I agree beer freshness can be an issue. I think some sort of “bottled on” date or batch number could be of great use to the consumer/retailer, but I think a national mandate is not a great idea. Any rigid, set national standard could cause great expense to many small brewers and would possibly discourage the proliferation of fine, bottled craft beer. Labels redesigned, new printing plates made, date-code printers or even new labeling machines would be a huge, perhaps insurmountable, expense to many small brewers. Some might not be able to afford to make the changes, forcing them to make some tough decisions. If done voluntarily, each brewer could find the method that was the most affordable, and made the most sense for their particular operations. So put me down in favor of “bottled on” / batch dating, but not a national standard. Make sense?

Brian Dunn
Founder, Great Divide Brewing Company (Colorado)
In general I think there is already way too much regulation in our world, so I would be against a national “packaged on” date standard. That being said, I feel strongly that beer should have a clear system of dating. Ever since we opened in 1994, we’ve used some sort of dating on our labels. Our current method is to clearly print the bottling date on each label with a high-speed ink jet printer. We spent quite a bit of money on that printer because I think that beer drinkers need to know when the beer was bottled. Some of our beers have a three-month shelf life [and] are best when fresh, and we have other beers that will improve with age. Beer drinkers can make more informed decisions knowing the “packaged on” date, but I think that each brewery should have the right to decide how they want to approach it.

Rich Doyle
CEO, Harpoon Brewery (Massachusetts)
I am a huge believer in making freshness dates easy to read for our customers. We put a “best by” date in contrasting ink on the necks of our bottles and on our cases to make it easy to see if our beer is fresh. Some of our beers have different freshness dates than others, because the ingredients are different. That is why I am wary of a “national standard.” When I hear that term, I think of a national regulatory apparatus and it makes me cringe. Our labels are already subject to a scrutiny that in many cases is an annoyance to the brewer and not any help to the consumer.

In the EU, there is a mandate that beer has a “best before” date on it. The custom is to set that at one year from bottling. I think that a year freshness date is an oxymoron in regard to beer. When we started selling there, we wanted our beers to have the same freshness dates that we do in the US. But since that was only 120 or 150 days, our importer/wholesaler balked, since the consumer perception would be that our beer was old, since it was so close to its “best before” date. We do not sell there anymore. So in the EU, there is freshness dating requirement that actually acts to defeat those that want truly fresh beer. The right answer is for customers to demand legible freshness dating from their brewers. If they buy only beers with legible freshness dating, brewers will catch on very quickly.