The Trouble With Freshness

Eno Sarris, August 04, 2015

Here at BeerGraphs, we agree with those that feel that freshness is important in beer. We wrote a two-part piece about how important freshness is, and we love Collin McDonnell at HenHouse Brewing, which is like loving freshness by proxy, considering his near-daily rants on the subject. 

So we've championed Enjoy By from Stone as an industry innovation -- for the first time, the freshness is the point, and the enjoy by date is not something you search for on the bottle. It's front and center. It's freshness as a marketing strategy. 

And it's viable. It's oh so viable. Look how popular the Enjoy Bys are, even as they tweak the recipe a bit each time. They're almost all about 10-15% better than style average, and if you combined them as a single beer, you'd surely get into the top 25 -- the highest-rated Enjoy By is only about one or two beers above replacement short of that designation currently, and that's *with* those beers dying off after their Enjoy By date has passed. 


Apparently in Southern California, one Whole Foods outlet has taken extra inventory in their own hands. See that header image? That's an actual Enjoy By 7.4.15, repackaged to sell sell sell. 

Now, it's possible that these are 9.02.15s that lost their six pack box, though that's not probable, because those beers come in their own six pack boxes, so... It's possible there was some sort of printing mishap, though Stone hasn't said anything of the sort on their twitter feed or blog. And we're done dreaming up ways that this makes any sense for the retailer to attempt.

Most likely is that this was the result of a fed up beer store owner, trying to sell off his inventory and reduce loss on the product. Perhaps they didn't know the power of the craft beer nerd, and the likelihood that this would get out. Maybe they just had a few cases left they didn't want to swallow, literally or figuratively. Maybe they were just fed up with this SKU. 

This is the other side of freshness. It costs money. And effort. Distributors have to teach stores about the product, and communicate the risk in the product, even as they try to push more of the product and convince them it sells well. Beer stores have to take the risk of buying a beer product that has an expiration date on it, when they can pull all sorts of tricks to sell other old beers without anyone noticing. Breweries have to spent time and energy enforcing their freshness desires upon their distributors and retailers. 

(Pro tip: if you're in the grocery store and you're looking at craft beer by the vegetables, they're trying to pass off old beers to those that don't know better and won't go looking for the beer in the refrigerated beer aisle. Pro tip: don't buy the beer that has an expiration date that's taped over. Pro tip: Be very wary of pumpkin beers in February.) 

An expiration date on beer -- and that's what the Enjoy By date is, effectively -- will cost everyone along the chain money at some point. Stone understands that the tradeoff is an engaged, loyal customer base that gives you credit for your innovation and rewards you by buying more and more beer, every year. You trade the long tail for a huge peak when it comes to the product itself. But does every Stone distributor and retailer feel the same way?

Obviously at least one doesn't.