Posted by: Scott | November 12, 2009

Budget-Beer Bible | Chapter 2

Chapter 1 began with a rule (“Avoid beer on sale”), and now Chapter 2, per readers’ requests, will outline the exceptions to that rule. Not all sale-beer is bad, and I’ll explain why. I’ll also provide some handy tips for determining a beer’s freshness. Huzzah!

Let’s start with how to find good prices on good beer. As beerdoctor mentioned in his comments on the first chapter, an intrepid brew-hunter can occasionally find bargains on new shipments of beers that haven’t previously sold well. Another reader, Ben, suggested foraging for discounts when reputable breweries release first runs of new beers. Both are great suggestions, but sales like those can be difficult to find. Seek guidance at a local beer store. Get to know the staff. If they seem friendly and knowledgeable, start asking questions. You can also explore your area’s breweries and brewpubs. If you taste something you like, consider investing in a package or a growler. Beer is often cheapest from its source, and buying from the brewery ensures freshness.

We’ve established that sales occasionally benefit the beer lover, but how can you determine whether a store-bought beer is fresh or dead? Some breweries stamp a helpful “best before” date on the bottle or packaging. Others use “bottled on” dates or, in the case of Anheuser-Busch, a “born on” date; it helps to know that most beers of moderate alcohol content (4-5% ABV) will stay potable for about three months (there’s some debate about this; it really depends on the beer and the storage conditions). But, despite widespread acknowledgement that beer is perishable, many breweries don’t provide freshness dates—or worse, they use a coded date, which seems like an attempt to hide important information from their customers. (Don’t get me started on beer labels that lack ingredients lists.)

That’s why we beer nerds have figured out subtler methods for calculating freshness. First, check the ABV and IBU levels in the beer (if the label omits this info, ask an employee or look it up later online—or hazard a guess based on the style). Both hops and alcohol act as natural preservatives, so hoppier and/or more alcoholic brews will usually stay picnic-ready longer than the average beer. Some will even mature like wine if stored properly. Next, look at the bottle itself. Does the cap show signs of seepage? Has the label endured excessive wear or fading? Is there a blanket of dust slumbering on the glass? If you said “yeah, so what?” to any of those, consider putting that beer back and fleeing for your taste-buds’ lives. Do the same if something about the storage area seems fishy, i.e., the bottles are sitting under harsh fluorescents or in an unusually warm spot. Avoid too-good-to-be-true deals. Use your noggin.

On that last note, I have a cautionary tale: Two weeks ago I received a phone call from my father. “I just found a great deal on beer,” he said. “A six-pack of amber ale for $2.99!” I became concerned that even at $2.99, he’d wasted his money. Upon rushing over to offer my assistance, I saw the decrepit bottles, caked with dust and splattered with a now-solidified mystery goo. I picked one up, popped the cap, and poured a glass. An uppercut of skunk spray, sour milk, and old pennies hammered my nostrils and warned of several different kinds of spoilage. One taste confirmed that bacteria and light had shoved this beer down a dimly lit alley and roughed it up. I sent it down the drain.

In closing, you can buy good beer on sale. Just be careful, and enjoy the hunt!

Coming up Monday: Another review from the can.



  1. Hello Scott once again. Instead of finding beer bargains, I would like to mention finding fairly reasonable fresh beer when it is on sale. A good example of this, here in Ohio, new seasonal beers will appear on sale, during the early part of the season. Two good examples: Samuel Adams Winter Lager and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. These two sell at $9 a sixer, but a 12 pack sells for $14. This usually only occurs at the beginning of the season, so I say, let us dip our bread into the gravy while it is still hot!
    With the holiday beer season upon us, I sit here thinking of how can I acquire as many of these fine brews as possible. One other note, I do not know if you have Saranac in your area, but their 12 pack winter sampler (6 times 2) looks to be quite interesting this year. Matt breewing has reasonably priced offerings. This 12 pack sells for $14, regular price, $13 when on sale. Cheers!

    • Thanks for reading, beerdoctor. Keep checking back; it sounds like you’ll enjoy the December feature I have planned about winter seasonals.

  2. but by december, they will not longer be cheap!

    • It isn’t a new chapter in the bible, so it won’t be expense-based — more like a big multi-review feature 😉

  3. btw: pssh, he got that covered in the intro paragraph, doc. i think this article focused more on what NOT to do, while giving brief examples of what TO do in said intro.

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