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How Long Will An Open Bottle of Beer Last?

Author // Jeff Wharton

If you drink enough craft beer, you have definitely come across one of the large format, 22oz bottles of brew known as a "bomber." In fact, there are many beers you can't try without buying it in the bomber format. The good aspect of this? You get a single bottle with 22oz of beer in it... that's almost two beers! The bad aspect? You get a single bottle with 22oz of beer in it... that's almost two beers!

We say this can be good or bad because, at times, you may want more beer. Maybe you have nothing to do that night... Or, perhaps, you have someone to share the extra beer with. These are the good scenarios. The bad scenario is when you find yourself without a buddy to drink your craft beer with and you don't want to ingest 2 beers worth of alcohol. To compound this problem, oftentimes these beers are the stronger brews that a brewery creates. It's the Imperial Stouts, Double IPAs, Strong Belgian Ales and the like that come in 22oz bottles. So, what is a craft beer drinker to do when he or she wants to drink a single serving of Double IPA but only has a bomber of said Double IPA? There are those who would tell you to, and we quote, "man up." The point of drinking craft beer is to enjoy the libation, though, not to get drunk... sometimes that's a pleasant side effect, but sometimes people have other things to do (like go down to the bar to drink other craft beer...).

I (Jeff from DrinkCraftBeer.com) found myself in this position a little while back, and ended up leaving half a bomber of Smuttynose Big A Double IPA in the refrigerator for 3 nights. Upon finishing the beer on the 4th day of it being open, it was still hoppy, carbonated and delicious. Rather than leave this as a fluke, I figured this would be an interesting beer experiment (beerxperiment?)... Just how long will an open bottle of beer last in the refigerator?


(Five Days of Lagunitas Hop Stoopid. From Left: 4 Day Old, 3 Day Old, 2 Day Old, 1 Day Old & Fresh)

The Experiment

I went to Cambridge Wine and Spirits Mall Discount Wine & Spirits at 202 Alewife Brook Parkway in Cambridge, MA and picked up five bombers of Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, a Double IPA from California. I wanted the beer to all be from the same place and bought at the same time to ensure that the how the beer was handled before I got it wouldn't be a variable. Each night at about the same time (give or take an hour or two) I opened one bottle and poured a single glass. I then recapped the bottle by putting the cap back on top, but I didn't use a homebrewing bottle-capper. The beer then when back into the refrigerator. Each night for five nights this went on, culminating on Night 5 when I tried all the beers side-by-side: four days open, three days open, two days, one day and fresh. (See the above video for a shot of all 5 beers being poured, which will give a good idea as to how carbonation was effected)

The Results

Fresh Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

To get a baseline for this beer, I'll start with the fresh Hop Stoopid. The beer poured with a solid white head about an inch or so tall (as you can see in the above video). As soon as I poured I could smell lots of hops! Grapefruit and citrus stuck out. It smelled pretty dry, but you could get a mild hint of malt sweetness or some breadyness in there. It was a clear golden color, as all of the bottles were. The taste was super crisp and hoppy! Solid bitterness and bright hop flavor when wonderfully with the tingle of carbonation on the palette. This is one tasty beer if you like the hops!

One Day Old

The one day old Hop Stoopid tasted almost identical to the fresh version. There was much less head when poured (again, check out the video), but the hop flavors were all there as was almost 100% of the carbonation. In the end, when pressed you may be able to tell this one apart from the fresh version if they were side by side... but apart? Good luck.

Two Day Old

After 48 hours of being opened, I could start to notice that this beer wasn't the freshest, especially side by side with the other versions. It still had some solid carbonation on the tongue, but not much head to speak of. The flavor was still very good, but the hops just had a hint of staleness to them and the flavors were ever so lightly muted. If you were looking for it you'd notice it, but I think most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference at this point yet without a side-by-side comparison. It still had a solid hop aftertaste, but the fresh version just has a fuller and richer hop and malt profile. It's still quite drinkable at this point, though.

Three Day Old

As the video shows, the three day old poured with no head either and only mild carbonation on the tongue. This is the first one that really started to be noticeably flatter. I still got some good bitterness and hop flavor, but oxidation (which expresses itself in beer most often by tasting like wet cardboard) had just started to rear it's head. It's a little stale with less aroma then any of the beers so far.

Four Day Old

The four day old bottle had minimal to no head, as you can see in the video, but it did bubble while being poured with some foam floating on top. While this version has the least carbonation, it's still crisp and bitter and seems to have less oxidation than the three day old bottle (which I would chalk up to variance). You really need to look for the cardboard to get it. Some of the grapefruit and citrus hop aroma and flavor are starting to turn sweeter and more orangey. Even after being open for 96 hours, this beer still tastes quite good, although it's definitely a little flat.

Conclusion

It appears that an open bomber, with the cap just pressed over the top and refrigerated, can last quite OK up to 4 days before being finished. As would be expected, the sooner you can drink it the better. But, if you're really pressed, you can come back and still find a beer quite worth drinking after 96 hours. It does appear, though, that towards the end you have to worry more about variance as we saw the three day old beer with a bit more wear on it than the four day old beer.

Furthermore, there are craft beers in bombers that definitely have a higher alcohol content than Hop Stoopid, which clocks in around 8%abv. Also, Hop Stoopid is very dry and hop forward. I would think that this makes it more susceptible to aging faster under these conditions. A beer in the same style with a higher alcohol content or some more sweetness would probably last longer and retain more of the original intent of the beer. Also, a different style  that relies less on hops, such as an Imperial Stout, a Barley Wine or a Belgian Strong Ale, would probably fare better. As a result, look out for further beerxperiments. Or, do your own and let us know how they turn out!

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