I'd like to start this out by stating that I'm not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes and trying to convince you that we can sell out-of-date beer. We shouldn't. By selling beer, we've essentially promised the brewer (and the customer) that we'd take good care of their baby and send it out into the world in the flourish of beauty that they had intended.

Now that we've got that bit out of the way, I'd like to have a chat about Best Before Dates on bottles.

In some circumstances, they're warranted; they're a good indicator of how to best enjoy a beer and for its intended use (besides drinking it, of course). A short date indicates that it should be drunk fresh in order to appreciate that particular beer's qualities; a long one means that it could be aged to see what the future holds. And truth be told, I personally wouldn't trust a 4.2% pale ale with a year left on its life.

You see, hops--those glorious little nuggets that impart balance, bitterness, flavours, and aromas--only live up to their full potential for so long. The oils and compounds that are responsible for the job break down incrementally and before too terribly long, their deliciousness disappears and you're left with the bitter and preservative properties, and an ultimately disappointing beer. In essence, hops are like a glamour model--you wouldn't kick 'em out of bed, but an older one without the layers really destroys the fantasy. This is why lighter, hoppier beers tend to have a shorter lifespan than the inverse.

Even so, with all the said, the Best Before Dates printed on the bottles are quite arbitrary. Generally a brewer will look at the date that he brewed the beer, flip the calendar the requisite number of times in accordance with the style, and print it on the bottle. There are some agreed-upon guidelines--and it's all with the beer's best interest in mind--but a beer that's one day, one week, or even one month out-of-date would require an omniscient beer-God to taste the difference.

Thus, it's fair to say that a Best Before Date is merely a guideline, and a somewhat arbitrary one at that. Quite often they're used as gimmicks and sadly don't tell the customer that much. For example, what does an expiry date of 10 years from now, as is the case with certain stronger and darker beers, mean? If you've had a beer sitting for 10 years, what is 10 years and three months going to do. 11 years?

Obviously that is an example of an extreme. Nevertheless, I'd even go so far as to say that arbitrary dates unnecessarily upset a customer. A better option would be to assume the practice of printing "Born On" dates (and perhaps indicate a generally agreed-upon range for that particular beer) and let the customer take control because, truthfully, once out of the hands of the brewer and then the shop, the responsibility of care and proper storage lies with them.