You're inside the store, so now what? With more stores providing more beers to choose from the task of beer shopping often leads to a paradox of choice for shoppers.
I believe going beer shopping should be a joyous occasion especially with the growing selection due to the surge of craft breweries in the U.S. Even if you are a naysayer that claims “I don't like beer” there is most likely an offering that will pleasantly surprise you.
However, the increased selection has also led to some confusion for consumers. For example, I often get asked how to select “good” beer by friends and even other shoppers.
What is “Good” Beer
Plain and simple, whatever you deem to be good beer is good beer (for you). Your personal preferences are the most important factor, not beer ratings/reviews, friend's recommendations, or following the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes so let your palate lead the way.
A Beer's Journey
Some factors you should know about that affect your beer are often out of your control such as the supply chain for beer or even the beer itself. Before beer is stocked on the shelf it has to be transported from the brewery to a distributor (some breweries do self-distribute). Some distributors may refrigerate during transit and storage while others do not. Once beer is delivered to a retailer such as your local grocery store some will sit unrefrigerated as back stock, on the shelf or in cases stacked on the floor. Also the beer itself may have been produced with certain defects making it more susceptible to becoming stale. So, how do you go about selecting the freshest beer?
Steps to Selecting Fresh Beer
1. Select beer that is on the shelf in the refrigerated section. Perhaps the most obvious choice, however, this also has the beneficial effect enjoying your beer a little sooner after you get home!
2. Go to retailers that have a good turnover on their beer. This will take some time and research as you get to know your local stores offerings, determine the knowledge of their staff and collect recommendations from friends. One shop that goes to great lengths to ensure beer quality is By the Bottle and use low UV screened lighting to prevent light struck (skunky) beer.
3. Read! Know when seasonal beers are being released so you can purchase them at the beginning of their season to ensure freshness. Beerpulse and Beer Advocate are good online sources as is Facebook once you “like” a brewers page. There are many more and you may find a local publication that works for you.
4. Shop! Shopping consistently for beer helps you become more familiar with what is new while providing your beer fridge at home with more variety. This allows for the opportunity to forgo buying refrigerated beer, if needed, since you know the beer has not been unrefrigerated for a long period of time if it is newly released.
5. Network! Social media, homebrew clubs and establishments that offer craft beer are fantastic places to sample and gain insights into what you like, when to seek it out and where. This has the added benefit of enjoying limited release beers that may not be available. I also text my beer drinking friends when I find favorite brands that are on sale.
6. Choices! With so many choices of beer it is easy to get overwhelmed. If you are so inclined it may be useful to track the beer you have tried with an app or written notes. Untappd is an app that enables you to rate and review beers, which also allows you to network with others after you have friended them on Untappd.
7. Take risks! At times you may have to step out of normal buying habits and try a beer you missed despite all your efforts. You may be pleasantly surprised. If you don't like the beer, try trading with friend that may appreciate the flavor. In the worst case, if the beer is stale, use some to make chili!
Most importantly, drink and enjoy your beer in a glass to better appreciate all the efforts of craft brewers!
Aaron Brodniak is a fellow male military spouse who recently earned a Masters in Management at American Public University. He will be an instructor for Oregan State University's workshops on Craft Brewery and Craft Cidery startups. When not writing for us, he has his own blog: Brodniak's Beer Business Blog. If you like beer and business, you should check it out!