Fresh makes a difference. As a homebrewer, I am spoiled by easy access to freshly kegged beer. Since we brew about once per month, fresh is usually the rule, with the exception of an occasional double batch (seriously, 10 gallons of beer is tough to consume, even with abundant sharing with friends).
But if you haven’t had the magical experience of brewing your own beer at home (and I recommend getting started immediately), you have no idea what fresh beer tastes like. Maybe you have been fortunate enough to be at a brewery within a few days of kegging a new beer and know what I mean by fresh. Our friends at Elk River Brewing did just that on Friday, so I hope you were there to enjoy it (I missed it due to a trip to Bavaria, land of lagers...more on that in another post). But otherwise, you just don’t know how amazing fresh beer is.
Beer is a not a static substance. Like other wholesome foods or beverages, age impacts the flavor, aroma, and color of beer. And some beers are impacted significantly more by age than others. A russian imperial stout gets better with age (at least until oxygen ingress overcomes the packaging robustness), but IPAs are especially sensitive to aging. Crisp hop flavor and aroma just don’t stick around that long. You’ve probably had an amazing IPA from a can….but I assure you that IPA was significantly better the day it was canned. #truth So check the date on that IPA before leaving the store!
So why haven’t humans figured out how to maintain beer freshness? We’re pretty smart as a species...
Simple. Physics and the laws of energy that govern the universe are working against us here. Entropy is always increasing (in a closed system). Hence the cryptic title of this post. All the awesome (but delicate and fragile) flavors and aromas we build up through the brewing and fermenting process are continually at war with the slow, yet inevitable, degradation due to light, temperature, oxygen, etc. (with etc. being the general bucket of entropy). Everything on earth is breaking down over time, including our own selves. Beer is no different.
Fresh homebrewed IPA (by a proficient brewer) vs. Canned IPA from brewery XYZ
Without getting into the technical differences in grain make-up, final gravity, hop selection, etc., the homebrewed beer almost always wins. The average corporate brewer can’t get it into your hands fast enough! Sure, maybe I’m biased because I know the homebrewer, and there’s a personal connection which definitely counts for something. But I stand by this observation until someone proves to me otherwise. [And you’ll need to bring lots of supporting evidence to have a chance of influencing my opinion]
This is why Autumn Arch is a small brewery! The latest batch of IPA may be gone in a week, and that’s a beautiful thing because loads of people got to enjoy it at the peak of freshness. But fear not, we’ll brew another one! And it will be fresh as hell.