The importance of freshness in hoppy beers

I've been drinking a lot of really hoppy beers recently. Maybe it's the time of year, or the fact that 'modern' and 'progressive' seems to go hand in hand with 'loads of hops' these days, but I'm drinking IPA's and hoppy pales more than any other type of beer at the moment.

One beer that I've absolutely loved drinking recently is the Odell IPA on keg at Mr Foley's in Leeds. Fresh, vibrant, juicy, super citrus-pine hoppy and ultimately really tasty, I just can't get enough of it. Even at 7% it's hugely drinkable and recently I've been doing just that. Apart from the
Detour Double IPA I reviewed recently, nothing else seems to be fulfilling my hop fix in quite the same way.

So with IPA on the brain a few nights ago, and after loving it on keg at Foleys, I decided to stick a bottle of Odell IPA I'd picked up on recent trip to
House of The Trembling Madness in the fridge. Then last night I popped the cap and...

Well, not a lot really. It was perfectly fine, just a little tired, slightly marmaladey and still tasty but lacking the vibrant hop flavour and aroma of the keg version, which was obviously much fresher. You see, unlike the bottle, the keg Odell hasn't sat on a shops shelf for a long time in the middle of its life, before being brought home, stuck in a beer cupboard, then chilled and drank. Sweeping-generalisations-for-the-sake-of-making-my-point aside... It's been brewed, kegged, shipped, chilled and drank, with very little sitting around in between.

It got me thinking about the importance of freshness when it comes to hoppy beers, and whilst some darker richer beers cellar very well and can be kept for ages, anything hoppy and pale needs to be stored cool and drank fresh.

So do yourself a favour. If its a hoppy bottled beer you've bought; get it in the fridge and drink it quickly. Otherwise, get yourself down your local ale house and get your hop fix from cask or keg. Either way, drink them hops fresh people!


P.s. I was a bit unlucky with this bottle, its 'best before' was in a few months. This post is in no way a criticism of The Bottle in York, which absolutely fantastic. Seriously, go there and buy beer. Just make sure you get them hoppy beers in the fridge to preserve that hop freshness, and drink em' young!

7 comments:

  1. playing devil's advocate a touch here, but surely the whole point of hoppy beers is that they don't need to be drunk fresh, but can endure the rigours of 6 months bouncing across the ocean in 40 degree heat?

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  2. They're a natural preservative yes, so historically they preserved the beer for the long sea journey meaning it wasn't stale on arrival. However when that beer arrived the hop flavour itself would be much diminished, even if the beer itself was in good condition. If you want a full flavoured hop punch where the hops are the star of the show though, you need to drink them hops fresh, as hop flavour itself will slowly dimish over time.

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  3. It would actually be nice if a brewery tried something genuinely interesting like hot maturation of their IPA instead of chucking more hops into everything and thinking it cool.

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  4. White Shield is an IPA you must have seen with messages plastered all over the bottle stating the flavour will develope over 3 years. Big hoppy IPAs are ok but I think they need a big malt backbone to give balance and create an awesome beer.

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  5. Neil, you have the right answer, but have arrived at it in a roundabout way.

    I'm not sure that the Odells keg will have been any fresher than the bottle, or stored in better conditions. In my experience, beer keeps better in larger formats. The small bottle will always be inferior to a big bottle, and a keg will always be better than any size bottle. I'd guess this has something to do with volume vs oxygen transmission rates, but I can't be sure, and am too lazy to ask someone who would know.

    With reference to the dates on Odells bottles, I think that they're actually bottling dates - remember that our American cousins write the day and month the other way round to us.

    But overall, you're quite right - the very top-end, bright, zingy, exciting hop character is the first thing to degrade in beer.

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  6. You having trouble shifting them 750ml bottles Zak?

    Just kidding. I know Americans write the date the 'wrong' way round, and also that there is a bottling date on there, but im also pretty sure the bottle had a best before date too. Possibly added by the importer?

    Anyway, thats all by the by, I think your point about beer keeping better in bigger formats is a good one, and not really something i'd taken into consideration. My main point was that if people are looking for a really full on hop hit its better to drink a beer fresh, and also that refrigeration can help prolong a beers hop flavour.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts

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  7. You're spot on Neil, hoppy beers = best drunk young, some beers lose their sprightly hop character in as little as a couple of months, e.g. Stone Brewing only put a 3 month shelf life on their hoppy beers as they want you to enjoy them at they're best. So I guess the moral of the story is, if you find a fresh IPA, drink it as you find it, as the brewer intended & resist the urge to store them for weeks & months on end.

    Good post.

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