Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding (UPDATE)

It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding:  mybeerbuzz.comWe've added some updates to the bottom of the post…

Have you ever returned home from a beer run, put your precious cargo in the ‘fridge and sat down to enjoy a hoppy IPA, only to find a problem?  Your favorite beer just doesn’t seem to taste the same.  So you dig a little further until you find the problem.  Your fresh IPA isn’t so fresh after all.

While it may be easy to blame the problem on uneducated consumers, I can tell you personally that a) I buy a lot of hoppy beers, b) I always seek out date coding to buy the freshest beer possible and c) I too occasionally end up with a bad case of out-of-date-beer.

Why does it matter? 

As an industry, we in the “craft” beer biz are constantly touting “freshness” as one of the big advantages of small craft beer over traditional big beer.  Our beer is brewed more frequently in smaller batches, it arrives at the beer store from local/regional breweries and this freshness-paradigm continues to be one of the major advantages I think independent craft breweries have.image

Given that "freshness advantage,” you would think it would be a tremendous boost to craft beer sales to make it easier to see that the beer is actually fresh.  Packaging dates that are prominently displayed would highlight the freshness advantage of craft beer and also highlight how much the brewers care about their product.

imageInstead, we have what I’ve come to call :date coding”…and I think there’s a certain irony using the word “coding.”  Truth be told, many times the dates are like trying to read Morse-code.  I’ve personally written articles on how to interpret date coding, and I can tell you that even I struggle to pin down when a beer was packaged.  Do we really want people trying to decipher Julian dates or counting the number of days into the year that a beer was packaged or are we naïve enough to think they really don’t care?

image

If that’s not enough fun, just look at the various date-formats in use:  Dates that indicate when a beer was packaged or dates that indicate when the beer is “best consumed by” and even an educated consumer can be left guessing.  Add in the packaging options we have available now for bottles and cans; 4-packs, 6-packs, 12-packs, 15-packs, 18-packs and cases; and you’re left with a real puzzle to try to hunt down a reliable date. 

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In Pennsylvania, our distributors can sell any format from cases to single bottles, so many times a case that may arrive with a date on the cardboard case, gets split up into formats that have no date coding visible.  Even 4-Packs of 16oz cans are many times packaged in cardboard carriers that are no longer associated with the original case dating, and the individual can dating is blocked by the 4-pack cardboard.

In the end it has become very difficult to figure out if you’re buying fresh beer or not.  With that in mind, it seems like now would be a very good time for craft beer consumers to begin to demand a more standardized format for dating beer. 

The Brewers Association just spent the last 3-months encouraging craft brewers to adopt the new Independent Craft Seal, so I’m left to ask why the Brewers Association can’t help promote the creation of a date coding standard that all independent craft breweries can adopt.  GABF 2017 just set a new all-time record of 408 entries in the American IPA category--a category VERY dependent on freshness.  Consumers have demanded more IPAs so it’s time to put our money where our mouths are and make the date coding a prominent part of our packaging.

Personally I think the preferred format would be to always include the packaging date.  If breweries want to also include how long the brewery feels the beer will be fresh, great, but including only a “best by” date only serves to further cloud the actual packaging date.  Was the beer packaged 3-months before “best by” or 6-months before “best by” or even more?

The packaging date also need to be prominent visually AND in a common location across all packaging.  Knowing where to look and what date you’re looking at will not only help the experienced buyer get what they want, but it will also serve to help educate and empower the new craft beer buyer.

I realize there are some packaging and equipment challenges here.  I also realize that small breweries are limited in their options for dating their packaging, so I do think this will take time to phase in and I do think it should be a recommendation and not a requirement.

It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding:  mybeerbuzz.com

It would seem to me that given the various ways packaging can be split up in various markets, it would be more reliable to date the individual cans and bottles in a common location for each.  Perhaps cans get dated on the bottom and bottles get dated on the lower side labels.  Maybe the breweries can also come up with some creative packaging options that would allow you to see the bottom of a can or side of a bottle even if they are covered by a 4-pack or case packaging.  I’m picturing cut-outs in the cardboard in strategic locations that would allow breweries to date the individual units and still be able to see that date if the units remain in a case, 6-pack carrier or 4-pack box.

I’ve personally witnessed loads of craft beer packaging that has no date on the case, no date on the 6-packs and no dates on the bottles.  I’ve witnessed cryptic Julian dates, dates that require you to count the number of days into the calendar year, and dates that I swear are printed in brown ink on brown bottles.  I don’t know about you, but even with a flashlight and magnifying glass, I can’t read the neck coding on brown bottles. 

(Look how awful the photo is below.  Can you read that?)It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding:  mybeerbuzz.com

imageCompare it to this much better example (below):

It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding:  mybeerbuzz.comWhile I’m hoping that I’m really wrong, I’m very concerned that the camouflage-ing of dates my be “accidentally intentional.”  I understand that not all beer sells, and with a date that prominently displays how old that beer is, it will be even harder to sell.  While I don’t have a solution to selling beer before it gets old, I would argue that as a brewer I would rather my consumer buy and enjoy my beer fresh and know it is fresh, than tricking them into buying old beer that they end up hating (and never buying again).  I guess I’d rather see 5% waste than losing a customer who drinks old beer and doesn’t know why it’s awful.

I realize there are costs associated with this, and those costs fall disproportionately on small craft breweries who have older packaging lines.  I also know craft brewers are creative people and you can (and will) come up with creative date solutions.

Freshness and transparency are huge advantages that the independent craft beer industry should take advantage of.  As an industry, we can use date coding standards to our advantage by highlighting just how fresh our beer is….and I think it should be a call to arms how consumers have overwhelmingly welcomed beers like “Enjoy By” and “Born Yesterday.”image

So this is my call to breweries, marketers, designers and industry professionals to start the push to standardize beer date coding.  Lets agree on a format and lets agree on standard locations across all packaging.  Informed consumers are happy consumers, and the next time I sit down to enjoy a fresh IPA, and can actually be assured it is fresh.

It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding!

Update:  We’ve received a ton of support for the idea of standardizing date format and standardized date locations for cans & bottles.  So far the only push back I’ve received is related to smaller breweries not having the equipment necessary to comply.  My argument remains that once you eliminate the breweries that do not package, many (not all) will have the ability to comply, if not now at least in the near future.  I do think there are non-mechanical solutions that smaller breweries can use to date their packaging.  As an example, I have a friend who turns out hundreds of backed goods every few days, and she manages to stick a date on every individual cookie, cake and cinnamon roll.  If she can do it, so can our smaller breweries.  I’ll be adding future updates and more examples of good and bad date coding.

If you can put a catchy phrase on the bottom of the can, why not a packaging date?!

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date CodingMybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

Mybeerbuzz: It’s Time To Standardize Beer Date Coding

About MyBeer Buzz

Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor for mybeerbuzz.com. Producer and Co-host of the WILK Friday BeerBuzz live weekly craft beer radio show. Small craft-brewer of the craft beer news sites and one-man-band with way too many instruments to play.

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