The West Virginia beer consumer has seen an ever growing selection of craft and specialty beers in retailers' coolers, especially when compared to five years ago.
This is because "craft beer" is the fastest-growing segment of all beverages, outpacing the growth of wine and spirits with annual double-digit growth year after year.
One of the slowest-growing segments is watered-down macro lagers - indicating that tastes are changing for the better.
West Virginia consumers, though better off than in the past, are still way behind when it comes to beer selection because of our state's outdated beer laws and unmotivated beer wholesalers. Still, it's important to remember a few things while shopping for that perfect brew.
The first thing every beer buyer needs to understand is that beer, like cheese or produce, is an agricultural product and is perishable. There are some stronger beers made for long-term aging, but those do not exist in West Virginia.
The average macro lager will remain at its "peak of flavorlessness" for four to five months if kept refrigerated, two months maximum if kept at room temperature.
That's not too bad, right? Well, it sounds good until you realize that to do this, they literally have to either cook the beer by pasteurizing it or filter it to sterile levels; both methods either strip away or alter some of the flavor, an already scarce ingredient in these brews.
Craft brewers generally take a different approach to packaging. Many small brewers will do a quick "polish filtering" and then make sure they "bottle" or "can" the beer with an absolute minimal exposure to oxygen. Oxygen is beer's sworn enemy; once it gets into the beer, it works 24/7 to continuously degrade its flavor, rendering it tasting like old, wet cardboard.
Oxygen does its best and fastest work on warm beer. Dark beer or beers that are packaged with yeast in the bottle tend to stand up better against oxidation. Dark beer contains a very healthy dose of antioxidants. Beer that has been dosed with yeast will help keep things fresh longer, but the beer must remain cold or all bets are off.
So, Tip No. 1: Always try to buy beer that has been kept cold!