Yes, I’m quoting the simplistic and simply cloying Subway ad campaign. I’m not sure it even makes sense, grammatically speaking (and I’m not the only one). But it’s nonetheless a not-unwise directive for healthy living. After all, when was the last time you ordered an Italian BMT, glanced at the contents, and returned it to the “Sandwich Artist” behind the counter because the greens were “not quite brown enough,” or the salami just didn’t seem “slimy”? Never, I hope.
Thus, eating fresh — food, presumably — offers a number of obvious advantages. Not the least of which is being able to enjoy what you’re consuming at the peak of, well, enjoyment.
The same can, and should, be said for beer consumption, too — drink fresh, as it were.
Now, we at Scribbleskiff regularly extol the benefits of drinking our draughts in their suitable seasons — for instance, making a point of pouring a pint (or two) of Guinness on St. Patty’s Day (as we did here) or, now that spring’s sprung and Easter’s a hop away, popping and sipping a few bottles of bock. Etc.
But doing so does not by rights guarantee your brew is actually fresh. Quite often that’s not the case at all. Many bottled beers are stewed and stowed weeks before going to market, and even some so-called “seasonals,” like Oktoberfest marzens, have become so popular that they’re available all year long.
Please note: I’m not here to debate the merits of adhering to the “sell-by” or (heaven help me) “born-on” date. That’s an entirely different rule of thumb and a matter of common sense, along the lines of checking the stamp on a carton of milk before dunking your Oreos.
Rather, this article concerns the notion of acquiring and consuming a limited-release malt beverage, often concocted from a novel recipe, at the time of its liberation. Doing so — opening a bottle of hand-crafted specialty ale or lager, mere moments after it rolls off the line — is the best way to experience what the puritans call “real beer.”
The major factor in this equation is to drink locally, or at least to buy your suds brewed as close to home as possible. Short of spending every evening at a brewpub, or installing your own mashing tun and DIY-ing it, this is the best way to ensure freshness. Think of it as the spiritual equivalent of the “locavore” movement.
And what’s the best way to succeed in this endeavor? Ask for help. And I never go wrong when I consult with Jed, my go-to new-brew-guy at The Wine Source. It was he in fact who started me thinking in this direction several weeks back, when he answered my casual “what’s new?” by pointing to the stacks of six-packs of Nugget Nectar, an annual all-star from Troeg’s Brewing Co. “It just came in today,” he grinned, “and it’s amazing right now.” He was right, as always. Because the beer, an imperial (i.e., heavily hoppy) amber ale available for a few weeks starting in February, came from only a few miles away, it had been bottled only days before arriving on the shelf. So, when I popped the top that night and poured a glassful to accompany a plate of homemade bean burritos and guacamole, the result was a beautifully bright orange, crisp and clean beer, brimming with pungent Nugget (and at least 4 other) hops aromas. How was the combination? In a word: ambrosia.
I had a similar experience recently with Aprihop, a limited-release spring seasonal from Dogfish Head. I’ve encountered and enjoyed this brew before, both on draft and in the bottle. So, when I saw the announcement on their Facebook page that the beer would be available on March 1, I made sure to have it in my hand by the evening of March 2. Sweet and tart, tangy and zesty, it’s an American-style IPA made with fresh apricots — and it’s like drinking the fruit straight from the tree. Sure, it will ripen and mellow a little over the coming weeks, changing flavors and its color a little. And it will still be very good. But picking up a beer at the peak of freshness is a treat — like buying Krispy Kremes when the red light is lit.
And, speaking of fresh treats for an Irish spring (though not necessarily this one), I recently took a different tack on St. Patrick’s Day and filled my trusty schooner with Aarsh Red Ale, a new release from Heavy Seas. This Imperial Irish red, a balanced blend of malty caramel sweetness and spicy hops bitterness, proved a delightfully lithe alternative to the typical canned tradition of Extra Stout. And again, seeking maximum freshness — buying a newfangled locally brewed beer within days of its birth — made for smooth sailing.
Thus endeth the lesson. To summarize: while it’s true that most beers, craft-brewed or otherwise, if stored properly, will last for months and still taste great. And some beers benefit from extended aging in the bottle — Chimay Grand Reserve, for example. But when a new, limited-quantity seasonal arrives, one that’s brewed nearby and delivered almost immediately, don’t wait for it to ripen on the shelf. For goodness’ sake, grab it!