Commercial v. Homebrew Conditioning
A conundrum (to me, anyway!)...
It is said that homebrewed beer (generally) 'improves with age', and some styles particularly should be left to 'cellar' for 6 months or more.
Yet, it is also said that (generally), commercially produced beer should be consumed as fresh as possible (preferably within about 4 weeks?).
Why is it so?
Also, why should it be so hard to achieve a longer shelf life for commercially bottled beer (using all the relatively fancy equipment), yet homebrewers are encouraged to leave a few bottles washed, filled and capped in the laundry for months and months to discover how 'aging' this beer is good...?
In my experience, it isn't so!
Some styles are best young, others take time to mature. I fondly remember working in my first brewpub, enjoying comparing notes with the regulars on how our stout was changing with time.
Light, low hopped beers are probably at their best young, but a beer with a complex recipe with lots of different flavors combining will usually go through a lot of changing.
Obviously, it's in a large commercial brewery's best interest to have a consistent product, so they'll either age it in-house for a while before putting it out, or they'll make it fairly simple so it won't be changing much...
Don't forget that when commercial brewers talk about consuming beer "Fresh", they mean as soon after packaging as possible, which normally means as soon after filtration as possible. Most commercially produced beer is filtered, and much of it pasteurised (OK not from most micro brewers, but the big volume stuff, Bud, Coors etc). Filtration has removed most of the yeast, and pasturisation has killed off any remaining few yeast cells. Any subsequent flavour changes are only going to be deleterious. The yeast in home brew and package conditioned beers will mop up oxygen, and allow the flavours to change slowly, generally for the better.
One point of note though, even home brew should not just be put in the garage without any form of temperature control, especially if the ambient temperatures are warm. The resulting flavour cahnges will not all be good - not by any stretch of hte imagination.
Hope this helps
Yes, teh whole "born on" dating system came from large commercial breweries that all pasteurize. Most of the craft brewers took this to another level and called it "best before" dating so you could have some conditioning period. There is absolutely no benefit to aging pasteurized beers and most of those commercial beers are in clear or green bottles, so the longer you have them, the more likely the hops will get a negative reaction to light and get skunky.
A note on aging homebrews: Generally the darker and more complex, the stronger the benefit of aging. However, the biggest probelm with aging homebrews and the reason most homebrewers should not go past 9-12 months of aging without practice, is that the beer could be adversly affected by oxidation. Make sure your rackign and kegging/bttling follow good clean, gentle practices.