Most beer bottles have some sort of date on them, but figuring out what they mean can be a bit confusing. Some bottles have “pull dates” and some have “born on dates.” What do each of these dates mean? Isn’t aged beer supposed to be good? Here’s a closer look at the dates on your bottle, and how they can affect your beer.
The date you see on most beer bottles are not expiration dates but ‘pull dates,’ which are the dates retailers are instructed to pull beers off a shelf if they haven’t sold yet. The beer inside hasn’t expired, but it’s not longer considered “brewery fresh” and most companies no longer want it to be sold. Many brewers will buy these bottles back from a retailer a full retail price, so there is no reason to keeping old beer on the shelf.
“Born on dates” are the less common marking you’ll find on some bottles indicating when the beer was bottled. They were first introduced by Anheuser-Busch in the 1990’s as part of a marketing campaign, but in practice they also let the retailer know when beer should be taken off the shelf. For many years A-B recommended a shelf life of 110 days, but a few years ago extended that to 180 days. Of course this wasn’t info readily available to the consumer, which can make born on dates a bit confusing as they’re easy to mistake for pull dates.
While getting a beer as fresh as possible is great, aged beer can be pretty wonderful, so which beer should you pick up from the store? Well aging beer is unfortunately not as simple as letting a beer sit on a store shelf. Beer only ages correctly under the proper conditions. Usually this means a cool, dry place around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit away from any direct light; so basically the opposite of a store shelf. Additionally, not all beer ages well. Beers high in hops or low in alcohol (under 6% alcohol by volume) typically are best consumed relatively fresh.
The long and short of it is that you should probably pay attention to dates on bottles, and try to pick up the freshest beer you can. While there’s a chance an old bottle of beer at the store will be just fine, that’s a risk not worth taking. Try to avoid any bottle at the store with dust on it, that way you can age it yourself properly if you want and ensure it will mature the right way. Also generally speaking, unless otherwise noted, most dates on beers are pull dates, not born on dates.