How to navigate the commercial minefield of ‘best before’ ....

....plus (spoiler alert) an offer too good to miss

We took delivery of some amazingly crisp & fresh IPAs from Wicked Weed last week. For reasons we’re still working out, they arrived with less time than we thought before the best-before date kicks in. Nothing too unusual there for those that know the challenges of importing beer.

What’s unusual is that these beers have a 75-day shelf-life. Having personally bought some, I can testify that these are some of the most balanced, tastiest and quality-led IPAs in the UK right now. However, the question was asked whether we should discount them by 50% to shift them before they ‘expire’.

So, onwards to my latest blog on the subject of ‘Commercial Freshness’.

First things first - every batch, every situation and every beer is different. I’d never blindly apply the same freshness logic to all beers and many are, IMHO, knackered way before the date on the bottle.

This also isn’t going to be an encyclopaedic analysis of the subject. I’m going to use Lieutenant Dank by Wicked Weed as my case study and want to share the thoughts of the BottleShop team for us all to consider.

The first commercial reality was sending the beers out to our wholesale customers. We quickly found that there was very little appetite to have beers with only a few weeks left before the looming BBE - even when they knew this was a 75-day date. So, we’re in a position with a STUNNING beer, still comfortably within the boundaries set by the brewery that’s been cold its entire life that we can’t sell. Though I wholeheartedly understand the reaction, it’s a clear indication about the state of the UK market when it comes to consumer and retail confidence in fresh beer.

No matter how much we think we’re progressing, we’re still not far from the bad-old-days of one year dates on bottle-conditioned IPAs. Until we get more refrigeration, and more beers that need refrigeration, then we’ll never evolve. Without stores taking on this challenge, we’ll all be drinking beer designed to survive compromise. This isn’t good.

I didn’t agree that we should discount the beer in our bars. We decided to create an in-store display that celebrates the 75-day date. Once we pass the date, we’ll offer a small discount but will still have huge confidence in selling the beer given we’ve refrigerated it all its life. These cans will still be massively better than the imported IPAs in our UK supermarkets. We also have no legal obligation to stop selling the beer as it’s ‘best before’ not ‘use by’. It’s really important to understand that the word ‘best’ in ‘best before’ is hugely subjective and very contextual. A baker could argue that their bread is ‘best’ whilst still warm. Their ‘best before’ could be within 30 minutes of coming out the oven and ‘still lovely’ would be end of day. We all know sourdough bread lasts for days and is still hugely useable - arguably better for toasting when older. I’m not promoting a world where we all have to eat still-warm bread but it’s clear with this industry that there’s texture within the issue of freshness that’s massively lacking with beer.

So, Lieutenant Dank is still going to be hugely enjoyable after the 75-day ‘fresh from the oven’ period. However, we need our customers to understand this and, as we’re continuing to find, there is inadequate language in the beer industry around the issues of value and freshness. It’s the reason we talked about #4KBeer, #FreshlyLanded, #WorldClassBeer and #ColdChain throughout our successful Crowdcube campaign. We had to create the language to discuss new levels of quality the UK hadn’t experienced before.

So, we’ve got 40 cases of these beers that are a ticking time-bomb for us. We know the beer is SUPERB. Our staff are drinking them, the customers buying them are overjoyed - but without the support of the industry, social-media users and customers, we will end up destroying this beer. As a general plea to you all, please open your minds to the idea that a shop or bar that’s offering you the opportunity to drink crazy-fresh beer that’s nearing a very contextual date on its label (that’s a legal requirement wine and cider don’t have) is something to get excited about. Please push the boundaries, embrace the choice we’re offering otherwise the alternative is going back to a safer, more compromised world - something I don’t think anyone really wants.

Try the beer for yourself here.

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