Beyond Best By: Brewers Must Ensure Date Coding Remains a Value

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This article was written by the Market Development Committee as part of the BA Insider series, which covers topics relevant to craft beer distributors.

In a previous BA Insider, the Market Development Committee highlighted the necessity of providing a trackable code on packaging. Now we’ll look at life after the code is printed on your packaging. What responsibilities do we have as producers? What can be done to ensure date coding remains a valuable resource and to instill confidence in beer lovers that the beer they purchase is at its best?

Ensuring Post Brewery Quality

Have you ever heard someone say that a beer’s quality cannot be controlled once it leaves the brewhouse? This sentiment has been confused. While there is little that can be done to improve quality once a beer is packaged, the idea that a brewer’s responsibility for ensuring that quality ends outside the brewery doors is simply not true. Together with the help and support of wholesalers and retailers, once beer leaves the brewery, quality remains important throughout the life of the beer and supply chain.

Ordering and Inventory Management

Working closely with wholesale partners ensures the availability of beer for the marketplace and limits the potential for substantial out-of-date beer. Washington state’s Icicle Brewing Company utilizes software platforms and weekly email communication with distributors to assist with order tracking. “We also cross check inventory and orders with our distribution partners so that we properly can supply demand in market,” explains Icicle Brewing founder Pam Brulotte. “We continuously check our beer freshness out in the retail market and also have quality expectations outlined in our distribution contracts.”

Training and Maintenance

Starting in 2007, leaders from the Brewers Association and industry stakeholders large and small came together to develop the definitive guide to the care of draft systems and draft beer. Now in its fourth edition, the Draught Beer Quality Manual has become universally accepted as an indispensable tool for the beer industry. Despite the guide’s support these past years, poorly maintained draft systems remain a threat to quality craft beer. Proper education, routine training, and communication throughout tiers are important steps, but it is also important that everyone is dedicated to the proper handling and service of beer to ensure quality beer reaches the beer drinker.

As roles between tiers shift and evolve, field and in-class training by brewers can help communicate expectations and standards, and empower others to champion proper care of draft beer. Ultimately, it is to everyone’s benefit to support regular draft cleaning and maintenance, as well as coming to agreement on the handling of packaged beer.

We All Take Pride in Freshness

Taking pride in beer’s quality and freshness is not limited to the brewer. Throughout the country, distributors and retailers share the love and challenges of serving beer lovers with beer the way it was meant to be enjoyed: fresh, delicious, and served properly. To ensure this, brewers should decide what they want their standard to be, then work together with wholesalers and retailers by sharing their expectations. Working in tandem to develop a way to identify successes, improve upon pain points, and then allow ample time for each party to work towards meeting standards will continue to pay off for brewers, wholesalers, and retailers long after the beer gets a best by date printed on its label.

Considerations to Ensure Quality Beyond the Best Buy Date

  1. Identify standards that are important to your brewery and put them in writing
  2. Share your expectations with your partners
  3. Work with partners to meet expectations and ensure they are met
  4. Provide ample time for corrections

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