Is it okay to drink beer that has been left at the cottage during the winter?

Is it okay to drink beer that has been left at the cottage during the fall and winter? Is it still good to drink after it freezes?

In Canada, most beers are marked with a “best before” date of 90 days after production. That’s because the majority are light pilsners, best drunk as fresh as possible. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go “off” on day 91. Kept cool and in the dark, pilsners should taste fine for several more months. Heavier, darker, European-style beers with a higher alcohol content last longer, by the way. The best can even improve with age, like good wines.

It’s a different story if you’re storing your beer in the cottage pantry. Spoilage bacteria, which may be present but is normally kept in check by pasteurization and refrigeration, can proliferate when beer gets warm. Depending on present bacteria, you could get a mouthful of butterscotch, apple, or vinegar instead of the flavour you were after. Then there’s oxidation from the air in the bottle, which produces a taste like paper or cardboard.

None of these effects is harmful to your health, only to your drinking pleasure. The same is true for beer that has been frozen. Although it may be safe to drink, it could taste funny, and you might notice some little white flakes from proteins that have separated. Let your taste buds be the judges.