Best Before Dates – What’s “Best?”

まずはビール (“beer first” or "start with the beer") has always been an internal motto here at Kyoto Brewing Co. From our inception, we have put the quality and condition of our beer first when making decisions regarding how we produce and sell our products. This was at the forefront of our minds when we began bottling in 2017 and we settled on a very conservative Best Before Date (BBD) of just 60 days for all three year-round products. This was eventually extended to 90 days as we became more proficient at using our bottling machine and sensory evaluations of these beers showed us that they lived up to expectations longer than when we began.

As demand for our bottled beer grew, we began to reach the limits of our tiny two-head bottling machine and knew that we had to upgrade to something that was able to package more product in less time. We decided to take the leap from bottles to cans, which provided the extra challenge of ensuring quality in a package format that was new to us. To make the situation worse, Covid-19 had forced our business model to change from kegs to cans nearly overnight, while at the same time we were coming face to face with the reality that sales outlets demand longer BBDs in order to stock canned product on their shelves than any of our previous customers.

What did we do?

It would have been very easy to simply make up a BBD that seemed appropriate in order to appease the needs of the market. With quality coming first, however, we instead began by conducting an extensive analysis of our year-round products, beginning with our bottled beer, shortly after deciding to change from bottles to cans.

The first step was determining a baseline marker to compare the quality indicators of the bottled beer we had set BBDs for with cans coming from our initial packaging runs. Dissolved Oxygen (DO) is the most crucial factor in determining the shelf life of packaged beer, and comparing levels found in our bottled beer with those in our canned beer indicated that we could safely begin with 90-day BBDs.

From here, we began a 6-month trial that included 50 tastings of 10 separate batches of cans of our year-round beers. This, combined with DO readings conducted on each batch, provided a data set to accurately quantify the sensory changes these products undergo after being packaged. At the same time, we used this data to change processes within the brewery to further limit DO during production and packaging.

Why did we do it?

There are many reasons, the first of which is wanting to have confidence that our BBDs are indeed accurate and that customers can enjoy the product throughout the shelf life we indicate on the can. This is also why we feel it is important to take the extra step of not only indicating when the BBD expires, but also when the beer was packaged so you know exactly how old the beer you are purchasing is.

Second, we wanted to respond to the needs of our customers. Since we began bottling our beer, customers would often contact us excited to purchase our product only to have them not be able to once they found out the BBD was 90 days. This change will ensure that more customers will be able to stock KBC, which in turn means more people will be able to enjoy it at their local supermarket or liquor store.

Finally, by ensuring accuracy, we are also able to limit the amount of beer we must throw away due to BBDs being too short. Since July 2020, we have thrown away more than 9000 bottles and cans of expired beer. The vast majority was only being disposed of because the BBD we had assigned to it was too short due to a lack of data and an abundance of caution. Nothing can quite describe the pain of having to throw away thousands of litres of perfectly good beer that everyone at our company works so hard to create, package, deliver, store, and manage every day.

What products are affected and what are the new BBDs?

All three year-round beers now have new Best Before Dates as shown below:

  • Ichigo Ichie: 5 months from date of package
  • Ichii Senshin: 4 months from date of package
  • Kuroshio no Gotoku: 4 months from date of package

When will this take effect?

Beginning with batch 585 of Ichigo Ichie packaged on October 11, 2021, all year-round beers will be stamped with their new BBD.

Note: a preliminary one-month extension had already been made to batches 573 and 581 of Ichigo Ichie and batch 575 of and Kuroshio no Gotoku based upon initial data collected.

What next?

We will continue to monitor our year-round beers and announce new BBDs when our data suggests it is appropriate to do so. Our main focus for testing, however, will now switch to gentei (limited release) products, beginning with hoppy beers. Hop aroma and flavour are affected by DO more than any other character, so focusing our attention on analysing these beers will allow us to ensure that they taste their best for the entirety of the BBD. So look forward to seeing hoppy favourites like the Kimagure Series, Mariko and Mario, 6-day Weekend, and one-off IPAs tasting better for longer in 2022!