Questions (and answers) about storing & serving Bell's beer
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The vast majority of our beers have a shelf life of six months from the day of bottling, which can be found on the back label of all bottles, mini-kegs and even cases. Our stouts are more robust and can withstand storage periods of about a year, provided that they are kept in a cool space. Refrigeration isn't completely necessary for any of our ales, but being kept in areas that are cool & dark is strongly encouraged. Our lagers, however, should be kept refrigerated.
We also make several beers which are specifically crafted to develop & mature over the course of several years. These include Expedition Stout and Third Coast Old Ale, as well as certain special releases, and are ideal for long-term cellaring.
Following the packaging date is a letter. Currently, we are using A, B and C to denote six months, twelve months and unlimited respectively.
You can find more information about each of our beers on our Brands page.
Think about dark, cool spaces such as pantries or basements if you don't have enough space in your refrigerator. The goal is to minimize exposure to light and heat.
Beer will stale over time: we do what we can to minimize the potential & to slow it down, but natural oxidative reactions will eventually run their course. Refrigeration slows those reactions down dramatically, extending the shelf life, but keeping it in a cool place such as a pantry or basement is generally sufficient. Keeping the beer away from direct exposure to light will protect against the formation of the compound that creates a perception of a skunky aroma.
Starting late April 2011, we began printing the batch number & bottling date directly on the back label of each bottle. This is the actual date of bottling in normal MM/DD/YY formatting, not a "best before" date.
Batches bottled prior to late April have a batch number printed on the back label. This number can be entered into the Batch Finder feature of our website to determine the packaging date of that particular batch of beer. We'll continue to maintain the Batch Finder function on our website so that batches bottled prior to the operational start date are still searchable, but going forward you'll see bottling date information as well.
For batches filled prior to April 25th, 2011, you will find a number in a white box on the back label of our bottles. This is the batch number, not an encrypted date. It can be entered into the Batch Finder feature of our website to determine the packaging date of that particular batch of beer.
For batches after that date, the actual date of bottling is printed on the label along with the batch number. Following the bottling date is a letter that signifies a shelf life category. Currently, we are using A, B, and C to denote six months, twelve months, and unlimited respectively.
Our recommendation is to finish the container within 24-48 hours. You can probably store it longer, especially if refrigerated with the top vent closed between pours, but our concern is that the carbonation will start to suffer. There isn't any kind of counter-pressure applied to the container that would help hold in the carbonation, so the top seal offers only so much protection, even in the closed position.
Typically, one of our mini-kegs can be stored for several months, provided that you store it in a cool place. Refrigeration is preferable, but not completely necessary. We encourage retailers to keep them cold so that the shelf life with you, the consumer, is maximized. Once you get it home, storage in a cooler would be ideal, but cool spaces such as closets or basements will work just fine.
Bell's Brewery does not filter any of its ales. As a result, there will be some sediment in the bottle, mainly comprised of brewer's yeast & malt protein. While this can't hurt you, it has a distinctive flavor. As a result, we recommend that consumers pour, or decant, the beer into a glass, leaving the last little bit of sediment in the bottle.
If you prefer a hazy beer, pour about half of the beer into the glass, swirling the bottle to re-suspend the yeast, and then finishing the pour into the waiting glass.
Essentially, bottle conditioning is a method used to carbonate beer. Instead of mechanically forcing carbon dioxide into the beer, a carefully calculated amount of priming sugar is added to the beer immediately prior to packaging. As long as there is enough viable brewer's yeast in suspension, a secondary fermentation will begin. The priming sugar will naturally be split into ethanol & carbon dioxide. Normally, the carbon dioxide gas produced during fermentation will bubble out of the beer. Because the beer is now in a sealed bottle, the gas cannot escape and is forced to dissolve into the beer, thus carbonating it.
Keeping beer cold will slow the oxidative processes that cause staling, so we recommend refrigeration to maximize the shelf life and insure that the flavor remains as true to our intentions as possible. This remains, however, a recommendation and not a requirement.
All beer will stale over time; that much is inevitable. To combat this, we go to considerable lengths on the brewing side to minimize the overall potential for oxidation, primarily by protecting against inadvertent exposure to oxygen throughout the process. Some staling will still eventually occur, which brings us to the storage conditions. Oxidative reactions are like any other chemical reactions: they accelerate as the temperature increases. By keeping beer cold, these processes slow dramatically.
Fortunately, the staling process doesn't occur very quickly at typical ambient temperatures. Most of our beers are sufficiently robust to withstand room temperature storage at the retail level, the exceptions being our three lager styles: Bell's Lager Beer, Octoberfest Beer, and Consecrator Doppelbock. With proper stock rotation and good sell-through, a retailer may store any other Bell's brand outside of a dedicated cooler and the beer will be as fresh and equally enjoyable as beer from any other retailer. Once you get it home, if you have an abundance of refrigerator space, by all means keep all of your beer cold. Otherwise, stash most of it in a cool, dark place & just refrigerate what you can.
Storing beers in order for them to age is an increasingly popular practice, but one often misunderstood. Cellaring beer is all about controlling the normal oxidative reactions that take place as beer ages. As with all chemical reactions, they accelerate as the temperature increases. If you refrigerate the beer, these processes will largely come to a halt. That is perfect for most beer, but it defeats the purpose of cellaring. We recommend that consumers keep beer intended for vintage-aging in a cool, dark spot. Basements are ideal, but pantries/closets/etc work just fine. Having the beer a little below standard room temperature allows for a slow but steady pace. Once the flavor profile is where you want it, either start drinking or put the beer into refrigeration so that reactions slow to a crawl, thus preserving the desired balance.
Only certain beers are candidates for aging. The alcohol percentage certainly plays a part, but the primary question you need to ask is whether the beer's flavor profile is sufficiently complex that it will undergo aging reactions that contribute positive flavors. The standard pale ale just doesn't have the complexity needed and is just going to end up tasting stale. Beers with an alcohol content of 8% or higher by volume tend to have the necessary attributes, but this isn't always the case.
There is also a difference between an extended shelf life and aging potential. For example, our Java Stout is sturdy enough to withstand a solid year of life after being bottled before it begins to appreciably degrade. Nevertheless, it really won't develop interesting new flavors combinations as it ages. Beers such as Third Coast Old Ale and Expedition Stout are different: many of the flavor components are pretty raw & unbalanced when they are first bottled. Over time, their flavors will blend & mature in interesting ways, allowing you to compare vintages in a vertical tasting. We feel that this positive maturation process continues for a good five years after the bottling date, and even then they have nearly unlimited shelf life remaining.
Another pitfall to consider is the phrase "bottle conditioned." There is a perception that bottle conditioned beers age better than their filtered counterparts. That is partially true: the secondary fermentation contributes some pleasant flavors, and the yeast population in the bottle absorbs much of the oxygen that would otherwise go down negative oxidation pathways. The downside of yeast remaining in the bottle is that eventually it is going to die, and dead yeast cells are not positive flavor contributors. The key point, again, is whether or not the beer is complex enough to withstand that aspect of aging and incorporate it into the blend. Light-bodied or single-focus/unbalanced beers can be bottle conditioned, and while that might improve their shelf life, it will not turn them into candidates for your vintage beer cellar.
Our kegs use the standard Sankey “D” coupler.