04.Fresh is best plus meet the experts
Fresh is best
Beer is best drunk fresh, so if you’ve enjoyed drinking a European or American beer in its homeland, you may be disappointed by its taste once it has journeyed here on a container ship.
On average, the imported beers in this test scored below the local brews; the imported Becks even scored lower than the Australian-produced version, which seems to bear out the freshness argument. But that’s not to say you won’t find some impressive imported beers if they’ve been stored and handled well and aren’t too old — Kokanee Glacier Beer from Canada was equal top for lagers, and Peroni Nastro Azzuro from Italy equal second.
The labels could be more helpful
Labels can be strong on brewmaster babble:
- “Brewed in a traditional best bitter style with a fine balance of noble hop character and smooth malt undertones.”
- “Brewed with pale pilsener malt and a late gift of imported Hersbrucker hops.” And so on...
But most brands don’t give you any indication of how fresh the beer is.
Beer goes stale within three to six months of bottling. Most brands have a best-before date stamped on the bottle (though it’s sometimes very hard to find). The mainstream Australian brewers have agreed on a date nine months after bottling. Most beers in this test still had more than six months to go when we bought them.
But a few brands had no date at all (only a coded batch number) and Coopers had only an unhelpful ‘best-after’ date.
The big US brewer Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser and Michelob) tells you on the label when the beer was brewed. Why can’t Aussie brewers be as upfront?
- Buy the freshest beer you can. Get it from a bottle shop with a fast turnover, and look for best-before dates (for those bottles that carry them) with the longest time still to run, preferably at least six months.
- Don’t get your brew from the glass-fronted fridges in bottle shops, especially if it’s a beer that comes in clear glass bottles. Exposure to light causes a chemical reaction that gives the beer an off flavour that Americans call ‘skunky’. (In this test, Sol and Corona Extra came in clear glass bottles, and neither scored well.)
- Remember that beer is a perishable commodity. Treat it as you would milk — keep it somewhere cool and dark, and don’t wait too long before you drink it; as if you needed any encouragement ...
Meet the experts
Cheers to our expert tasters, who did an outstanding job (pictured from left to right):
Geoff Skurray, Professor of Oenology, University of Western Sydney
Nicola Rimmer, Brewer, Tooheys
Paul Rogers, wine lawyer and lecturer, University of Western Sydney
Caroline Aspridis, Draught Operations Manager, Fosters Australia
Franklin Lucarotti, Malt Shovel Brewery
Peter Aldred, Course Coordinator for the Graduate Diploma of Brewing, School of Science and Engineering, University of Ballarat