The Fallacy of Freshness: The PsycHOPathy Vertical

I’ve noticed increased chatter on Facebook groups about the freshness of IPAs. Of course, you should enjoy most styles of beer as fresh as possible because breweries release their beer when they feel it’s ready for you to drink it. However, what I’ve been seeing is the flat-out rejection of IPAs that are only a few weeks old. I decided to set out and see if that rejection is valid. After a year of waiting, a few friends and I sat down for a vertical of MadTree’s PsycHOPathy IPA.

Fresh IPAs

The Tasting Panel

Izzy is totes adorbs
Obligatory Izzy pic

I pulled together a few of my friends to assist me. In the end, we had 2 BJCP Certified rank judges, one beer buyer for a local bottle shop, one general manager/beer buyer for a LaRosa’s, four beer enthusiasts, and one pregnant woman observing our antics. There was also a 2-week old baby and an overly affectionate Goldendoodle if anyone cares, neither of them drank any beer.

The Process

I purchased all cans cold and stored in a refrigerator after purchase. We had two cans from each date and 2015-08-18_15-15-51before beginning I shuffled them thoroughly while keeping the pairs together. We then pulled one pair at a time. I created a simple sheet for notes, date guesses, and the actual results. Each person received 2 – 3 ounces of each beer then made notes if they chose to do so and recorded an estimate of the date. Half-way through the flight, we blinded a year old Sol Drifter vs. a fresh one as a palate cleanser, BIG difference on those two.

The Results

After recovering from the post-vertical bottle share, I started compiling everyone’s score sheets into Excel. I then consulted with a friend who does data analysis to figure out the best way to deal with this information. Here’s what shook out:

  • Five people correctly identified the oldest can from August 2014. Two people thought it was October 2014 and one person thought it was December 2014.
  • Three people correctly identified the can from February 2015. Other answers were April, July, and August 2015.
  • Two people correctly identified the can from July 2015. The other six people thought the July 2015 can was from August 2015.
  • No one got the cans from October, December, April, or August 2015 correct.
  • Out of 56 total guesses by eight people, there were only ten correct answers. Just simmer on that for a moment.

If we step back and look at the chances of getting 1 out of 7 correct, it’d be 14.3%. All together we beat the odds and got 17.9% correct, but if you remove the can from August 2014, we only got 10.6% correct which is a less than complete chance. Bottom line, we all failed miserably. [footnote] Thanks to Mr. McNutt for that insight & analysis [/footnote]

Another interesting way to look at this was how far off we were. This chart shows the number of days we were away from the actual canning date on average. If we were 100% accurate, it’d be a straight blue streak on the 0 line.

Do Fresh IPAs matter

 

The one can that most of us identified correctly, from August 2014, stood out because of oxidation. People left comments about “musty” or “cardboard” flavors and aromas, both clear signs of dissolved oxygen seeping into the beer and causing oxidation.

I reached out to MadTree, and they said that they made changes to lower dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the fall of last year. It’s likely that the can from October 2014 had far less DO than the one from August 2014 due to those changes, causing it to hide its age far better.

The Conclusions

As I said at the start, many folks lately seem to be rejecting any IPA that’s more than a few weeks old. I think we’ve shown here that, with proper storage conditions, you won’t notice a difference. All of these beers tasted very similar except for the oldest one which potentially suffered issues that MadTree has since corrected.

You should always drink beer as fresh as possible, but don’t get pissy or pour it out if it’s a few months old because you’ll hardly notice the difference. In the end, we are all Jon Snow.

10 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Freshness: The PsycHOPathy Vertical”

  1. The only problem I see in your test is the failure of establishing a baseline. (Say, everyone knows which one the freshest can is. ) cant compare without a frame of reference. But. A quality brew is going to hold up longer.

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  2. Back in our Florida days we would try to guess whether a Jai Alai can was fresh or not and were remarkably good at it. Not that an older one wasn’t still delicious – but there was just something we could spot.

    Ours certainly wasn’t a proper experiment, but I do wonder if certain ipa’s age in different ways.

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    1. I would say the biggest difference you’ll see between different IPAs is the level of DO that gets into the beer. I’d wager that Sierra Nevada and Goose Island can prevent far more DO than Cigar City or MadTree so those IPAs will all age differently. Plus bottles vs. can will have an effect as well. Brown bottles still let in some UV light plus a cap is not a perfect seal and will let in more oxygen.

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  3. Didn’t the style IPA come from adding extra hops to preserve the beer has it was shipped by sea. Stored properly the beer should be fine if it should have a some age on it, my problem is that I have a “wait” problem, I can’t seem to “wait” to drink a beer long enough for it to age.

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  4. The easy way to overcome the “wait” problem is to buy more beer than you could possibly drink in a reasonable amount of time. Then go through all the extra beer and decide what can, or what you want to, age and throw it in a box in the basement. Do that a few times and you’ve got a cellar going!

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  5. I’m not sure that test really addressed the root of the problem. The problem is not necessary whether or not an ipa from, say, April 2015 is decided better or worse than a can from January 2015. The problem is the drop off from a truly fresh can to when it reaches a breaking point at about 4-6 weeks after packaging.

    Said another way, if you’re drinking it today, there’s a huge difference between an ipa that was canned on August 21, 2015 and one that was canned June 21, 2015. But not that big of a difference between a beer that was canned February 2015 vs one from November 2014.

    The rate of decline really slows down once you pass that 4-6 week mark. At week 7, it’s past the point of no return and time to pour it out.

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  6. This analysis makes no sense? Which one ranked highest? What about lowest? Did you score out each age of beer? Did folks prefer fresher even when blind? If you can’t provide even the simplest of data then what is the point of this article?

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    1. We didn’t look at which one people preferred most, only if we could determine the age of each can. I would say that most of us enjoyed all of the cans equally except for the oldest one which had begun to show signs of age.

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