Thursday, April 28, 2016

Letting the Side Down?

Mrs V and I are in the middle of training to hike the West Highland Way, a 96 mile long hike through some of the most dramatic countryside in Scotland. The hike starts in Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, and finishes in Fort William.

Almost every weekend at the moment we are out in the Shenandoah National Park hiking up various mountains and getting used to wearing backpacks filled with everything we will need - admittedly we are staying in B&Bs along the way so we don't need to carry a tent and everything else that goes with camping.

Given that we mostly hike in the morning, by the time we are done we both have a hankering for a good pint and thankfully the pubs are open so we'll take a detour to our favourite watering hole in Charlottesville, the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room and knock back several pints of Bitter 42.

After one particularly grueling hike recently though we just wanted to get home and flake. We still wanted to have a decent beer when we got there though. The fridge being strangely empty and my keg of homebrew stout not being what I fancied in that moment we swung by our local petrol station, that has a pretty good booze selection.

I was hoping that they had Port City's wonderful Downright Pilsner, a beer I have waxed lyrical about on here before. What would be better than pouring half a six pack into my 1 litre glass and sitting on the deck in the spring sun? There, on a high shelf stood a couple of six packs of the beer I wanted, and so I reached for it....and was slightly perturbed that it was covered in dust, clearly it had been there a while. Sure enough, on checking the 'bottled on' date, said six pack of this lovely pilsner was bottled sometime in February, 2015.

Now maybe I am wrong, but a beer that is unfiltered and unpasteurised is not likely to be at its best after at least a year of unrefrigerated existence, regardless of how excellent said beer started life out as. Trust me on this, Downright Pilsner properly cared for and fresh is a pale lager that would give any coming out of the Czech Republic a run for its money. Having pointed out the age of the six pack to the staff in the store, and picked up a 12 pack of Founders All Day Session IPA instead, I went home to relax in the sun, muttering, ruminating, and wondering why this kind of experience is sadly not rare - there is a well regarded beer and wine store within yards of my workplace that had Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale on sale at full price a year past its 'Best Before' date. Ultimately I guess the joke was on me because when I got home I noticed that the All Day Session IPA I had paid full price for was 8 months old....sigh.

It's possible that the kind of beers that I like to drink shift slower than the endless rafts of indeterminate IPAs and so linger longer on the shelves, but shouldn't retailers and distributors be keeping a closer eye on their stock? This is especially important because if someone were to wander into the very same petrol station and by a full priced six pack of sub-prime Downright Pilsner it is not the retailer that will suffer, or the distributor, but the reputation of the brewery will be shot with that consumer, who will likely tell more friends of their negative experience than they would of a positive one.

How many people are being turned off excellent examples of classic beers because of shoddy stock management practices? How many distributors actually care enough about the products they place on the shelves to pull any that are past the 6 months since bottling point? Oh and why are there massive fridges in stores stocked to the gunwales with pasterurised, canned, macro lager that is unlikely to go off any time soon?

While I fully agree with the idea of caveat emptor, I also think that retailers need to sort their shit out when it comes to stock control and start discounting beer that is past its prime, if not pull it completely. A store wouldn't do this with cheese, bread, vegetables, meat, or any of the other essentials of life, so why do it with beer?

A few weeks later I was back in the same petrol station and Downright was still there, still unrefigerated, still over a year old, but the six packs had been dusted, I guess that constitutes 'care'.

1 comment:

  1. The 'big boys' have sales staff and distributors who ensure that beer is rotated through and removed when out-of-code. Most 'craft' breweries do not. Another clause in the definition of 'craft': stale. Caveat bibitor.