How Are You Communicating Shelf Life?

Freshness matters. Distributors, retailers and beer lovers all expect brewers to establish shelf life estimates for each of their brands. Doing so is not only important to the reputation of beer as a beverage, but also to safety and sales.

So I ask: How is your brewery leading in this arena?

As the Brewers Association Technical Committee wrote in 2014, brewers bear the responsibility for marking their products with some kind of date or lot code. “The code should act as a vehicle to trace a package in the marketplace back to a package date,” the committee wrote. “The assigned lot number should cross reference the specific brewed batch(es) of beer that encompass the specific packaged beer, through internal brewery tracking.”

Distributors, retailers and beer lovers all expect brewers to establish shelf life estimates for each of their brands.

Marking beers in this way is actually a requirement of—believe it or not—the Bioterrorism Act! Authorities want to know that in an emergency, they can follow the trail back to the exact time and place that any food or beverage was produced, and find out which batches of ingredients were used.

But even without the threat of weaponized bottles, cans or kegs, there are good practical reasons to code your product. The technical committee listed these three main functions:

  1. The most critical function is for the unfortunate case of a quality or safety recall. While all brewers strive to avoid such cases, it is critical for all to be prepared for this occurrence.
  2. A valuable quality tool in the distribution chain, allowing wholesalers and retailers to rotate and utilize first-in first out methodology.
  3. Allow a degree of transparency for consumers to understand the shelf life of a beer.

Now, not all appreciators pay attention to date codes on beer labels. But that’s no excuse for brewers to ignore them! If anything, it’s evidence that the brewing community could do a better job of educating its customers. And a lot of consumers do care, as the Brewers Association discovered in 2014 when it commissioned a Nielsen Omnibus panel of thousands of beer lovers who were asked:

IPA share2

I would say that when 37% of consumers expect date coding, brewers had better pay attention. Fortunately, brewers have a lot of latitude and flexibility to decide exactly how to implement their own coding system. As the technical committee wrote, “There is a wide variety of techniques and equipment available to use for coding purposes. They can be as simple as hand written numbers or as sophisticated as automated laser etched coding systems.”

No matter how you communicate the shelf life of your beer brands, it’s not only the right thing to do, but is also linked with purchasing decisions in the minds of some beer appreciators.  Each and every time you provide and reinforce this information you are taking an important and expected step in the beer sales process.



Julia is craft beer program director at the Brewers Association and publisher of She is a homebrewer, a BJCP beer judge, Certified Cicerone®, co-author of the Beer & Food Course and co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). In her role at the BA she serves as an educator and as a spokesperson for the association.

See Julia Herz's recent articles and activities