Today’s craft beer scene is overwhelming. Even for those with a grasp on hop varieties and local breweries, combing through a tap list can induce decision paralysis. But if there’s one thing that should guide an order, it’s freshness. Draft beer has long been heralded as the best option, whether for mouthfeel, pressure control or a foamy head. Now that so many craft breweries are choosing cans over bottles and kegs, is draft still considered “better?”
The answer, it turns out, isn’t so clear cut. Style — specifically when it relates to a beer’s hop content — influences the shelf life of a beer, as does packaging. Your best bet is to consult with the bartender. Robert Sherrill, beverage director of Covenhoven, a Brooklyn-based craft beer bar with 16 rotating taps and a fridge stocked with over 200 local, national and imported cans and bottles, explains.
Draft beers usually move faster, and if you’re replacing kegs more often, that usually means fresher beer. So, in terms of quality and turnover, it’s draft, then cans, then bottles.
Generally speaking, for an IPA, you want to consume it within a month of it being brewed. Hop quality begins to fade after about 30 days. Beyond that, freshness ranges according to style and hops. That information will usually come from the brewery, printed on a can or bottle. Sours like lambics can age for years; a traditional lambic is a one-year-aged beer that’s blended with a three-years-aged beer and then aged for another year. The same goes for big imperial stouts — you can hold those for five or 10 years. Some bars, like [Covenhoven], keep stuff. I have a case of beer in the cellar that my predecessor instructed us not to open until 2024 — it’s Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine.
Choosing the right bar is also really important. You want a staff that’s casual and approachable and knowledgeable, not snooty. Craft beer bars are some of the most inviting, magical places you can go to. They’re filled with cool people gathering and uniting around a beverage, recognizing that [the beer isn’t the reason for being], but that it’s a means to a conversation. And the staff is what drives that dynamic. So picking the right bar, with the right staff, and having a bartender guide you through the process of choosing a beer and expanding your palate is what matters most. It’s not just what you can do to choose a better beer, it’s knowing how to choose the person who’s going to guide you.
New York has always been a good place to drink beer. Thanks to the rising number of local brewers, it’s now one of the country’s best. Read the Story