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You have been there before. After a long holiday weekend, you put the beers that went unconsumed on the refrigerator shelf then close the door. You tell yourself that you can have those beers with your next pizza or that you will give them to a friend. But you never do. Soon, those beers have been sitting in the fridge for a year, then two. One day, you open the fridge and find yourself wondering, “Can you drink expired beer? What’s the worst that could happen?”
You will be fine but maybe disappointed. Whether you crack open that can and take a drink or read this article, here is what you need to know about drinking expired beer.
Table of Contents
- Does Beer Expire?
- When Does Beer Expire?
- Why Does Beer Go Bad?
- Can You Drink Expired Beer?
- What Happens When You Drink Expired Beer?
- What Does Expired Beer Taste Like?
- How to Tell if Beer Has Gone Bad
- How Can I Keep My Beer From Spoiling?
- What Should I Do With My Spoiled Beer?
- It’s Not Expired, It’s Poorly Aged
Does Beer Expire?
The uncomplicated answer is yes, beer has an expiration date on each bottle. Beer will expire, but not in the same way that milk expires. In fact, calling what happens to be an “expiration” is a bit of a misnomer, because beer does not become unsafe or harmful to your health. The flavors merely begin to degrade.
So instead of saying that beer expires, perhaps it is better to say that your beer has “gone bad.”
When Does Beer Expire?
When stored at room temperature, your beer has about 5-9 months after the expiration date before it goes bad. If you have a refrigeration unit for your beer, put the cans and bottles in there. Keeping beer cool prevents it from aging faster, which will boost its shelf life for about 2-3 years. Fascinatingly, the more alcohol there is in your beer—usually 9% ABV and above—the longer it will last. (So if you want long lasting beer, consider grabbing some high ABV craft beers.)
That said, an opened car of beer has about a day before it goes bad, regardless of where you have stored it.
What is a “Born On” Date for Beer?
It is believed that Budweiser started this trend. Other companies caught on, so now beer has a “born on” date. This date is the same as the expiration date—but with a slight twist. See, this says instead when the beer was made. By knowing when exactly the beer was brewed, you can estimate how long it has been on the bottle and the shelf before it reaches your home. If you notice that the born on date was more than six months ago, you may want to leave that bottle or six-pack alone and pick up a more recent delivery.
This “born on” date will save you from the utter horror of bringing home a beer only to find it has gone flat.
Why Does Beer Go Bad?
Here is the fun answer: Because of its chemical composition. Think about it. Beer is made from organic materials, all of which are bound to decay. Brewers have done all that they could to make beer potable for a long time. Plus, beer has a natural advantage. There is alcohol to ward off bacterial growth, antimicrobial properties from the hops, and also a low pH level. When brewed and bottled correctly, your beer is going to last a long time—unless air gets into the bottle.
And there is the problem.
You cannot can or bottle beer without there being a tiny bit of oxygen inside. It would be impossible otherwise. Oxidation is a natural process that cannot be stopped. When beer and oxygen meet, things begin to change. The flavors of the beer grow paler, less noticeable.
Can You Drink Expired Beer?
Sure, you can drink expired beer. Since the bottle has had bacteria removed from the inside, there is nothing in that bottle but the alcohol. You can consume out-of-date beer without any issue, unless you are accounting for the flavor.
Oxidation alters the composition of the beer, but that does not make the beer poisonous.
What Happens When You Drink Expired Beer?
Now, just because something is drinkable does not mean you should drink it. Beer might not become harmful after it goes beyond the best-before date on the bottle, but the flavor may not sit well with your stomach. Expired beer has the potential to make you very nauseous. Some people have even thrown up when trying to down a bottle of outdated beer.
So, while you can drink a bottle of expired beer, it is not recommended that you try.
What Does Expired Beer Taste Like?
The short and not-so-sweet answer is that it depends on the beer. Expired beer has undergone changes, some that make the beer lose carbonation, body, and flavor. The difference may be as subtle as your beer going from light and crisp to tasting like licking an envelope. Other beers may develop sweeter notes, like sherry. Malty beers start to get hints of caramel or toffee before the oxidation process takes all that away.
Hoppy beers, like IPAs, generally face the most changes. Any aromatic or bitter flavors disintegrate rapidly. You will notice that your IPA is expired when it begins to taste dull.
Also, temperature and light play a role in how oxidation impacts the flavors of expired beer. The warmer the beer, the faster it grows stale. Similarly, chemicals in your beer react poorly to light. You may open your beer to find that it tastes and smells like a skunk. Disgusting.
Check out this dude drinking expired beer—and then reviewing their flavors:
How to Tell if Beer Has Gone Bad
Not sure if that beer looming on the back shelf has been there for a long while? There are better ways to tell than by checking the expiration date. Sometimes, you need to crack open the beer and do some investigating first. Here are some signs that tell you if the beer can be consumed:
- Appearance of the bottle. Is the bottle or can covered in dust? Is there any sediment inside the beer? Any sign that the beer has been sitting for a long time points to beer that is going to taste and smell like a nightmare.
- The sound it makes when opened. Go on, open it. If you hear a fizzing sound, you are in luck. No fizz means no carbonation; that is not a good sign.
- Skunky scent. Exposure to UV rays will alter the chemicals from the hops, making the beer smell like a skunk’s spray.
- Is there a foaming head? Beer that has gone bad will not have a head when poured.
- The beer tastes a little like popcorn. If you have gone through this whole list and still do not know if the beer is drinkable or not, do a taste test. Any notes of cardboard or stale popcorn? These flavors are caused by diacetyl and that means that the beer is not going to quench your thirst.
How Can I Keep My Beer From Spoiling?
The hard truth is that your beer is going to expire, no matter what you do. The good news is that you can prolong your beer’s shelf life by committing to certain practices. Here are some tips to help you keep your brew from expiring sooner than it should:
Focus on Packaging
The packaging of a beer will tell you how long it is going to keep its flavor. For instance, beers that are packaged in glass bottles tend to spoil faster than those in a can. This is because light comes through the glass and accelerates aging. If you bottle your beer, make sure you are storing it somewhere away from light. Furthermore, bottled beers are going to have air at the top, which will also play a role in the aging process.
Cans are more airtight and will protect the brew from light exposure. Kegs work more or less the same way as a can. As such, if you have the option to drink expired beer from a bottle or a can or keg, choose the can. It will taste a little better than what is in the bottle.
Store Your Beer The Right Way
As a homebrewer, you have control over the packaging of your beer. When you buy it, you don’t. In both situations, you do have control over where the beer goes once you have it packaged and in your hands.
If you don’t want your beer going bad too quickly, it is best to keep it cool and in the dark. Store beer upright, not on its side. Doing so will keep any dead yeast cells at the bottom of the bottle. Plus, that means there is less liquid interacting with the oxygen trapped inside.
When consuming beer, consider keeping your can or glass cool with a koozie or can cooler. That ensures your enjoyment lasts a little longer than average.
Maintain a Cool Temperature
Again, it goes without saying that temperature plays a key role in the creation and storage of beer. Your cans, bottles, and kegs are going to last much longer when placed inside a refrigerating unit. The only time you should not store beer in a refrigerator is when it is a kind of imperial stout or barley wine. Live yeast should also be kept out of the fridge. These beers must be kept at a room temperature in order for the flavors to fully develop over time.
Regardless of the type of beer, temperature fluctuations and exposure to sunlight is not advised. Do not set your beer near a heater or window or exhaust vent.
What Should I Do With My Spoiled Beer?
You now know what happens when you drink expired beer: You risk a stomachache. Still, throwing out that expired beer seems a bit like a waste, doesn’t it? So what can you do? Recently expired beer is still drinkable, so don’t wait. Crack open that can or pop that lid.
In the event you pull out a bottle that is too far gone, consider cooking with it. That’s right, stale beer may be the star of your next recipe. Chicken, beef, sausage, and even bread can all be made with beer. You only need a little bit to jazz up your cooking. Stale beer can also be used for batters, such as those needed for beer-battered fried chicken, shrimp, or fish.
This video gives you some fun ideas to try:
Other than cooking, you can use your expired beer around the house. Beer can kill pesky insects in the kitchen or garden, for example. Pour the beer into a bucket then set it in the corner of the space. Bugs will be attracted to the beer (even when it’s skunky) and will fly to their graves. This sometimes works on slugs, too.
Beer can also enhance the shine on wooden furniture, reinvigorate dull or dry hair, and also remove stains from towels or carpets.
It’s Not Expired, It’s Poorly Aged
Can you drink expired beer? Yes, but that does not mean it’s a good idea. You now know that expired beer is not dangerous, but it does cause some indigestion and nausea when consumed. As such, you should avoid drinking beer that is more than 2 years expired. Certain conditions do extend the life of your beer, so keep the signs of spoiled beer in mind next time you consider trying an expired bottle or can.
Happy drinking (or cooking or cleaning)!
Yes, beer expires. However, to say that beer expires and becomes undrinkable is not correct. Beer is never not drinkable. It does not become toxic once it has expired. Instead, beer starts to lose its flavor and goes flat.
Generally, you have 6 to 9 months after the expiration date before the flavors of the beer are so off-putting that the beer becomes a task to drink. Refrigerating your beer may extend its life by 2 years. However, after that, drinking it is not recommended, as its flavor will be completely changed.
You can, but do you want to? Beer that has been expired for two years or longer is going to taste absolutely foul. You will not want to drink it.
No, you cannot get poisoned from drinking expired beer. The only risk is that you will be drinking something with incredibly dull flavors. Flat beer may make you feel nauseous, but it is not harmful to your health.