The question of whether or not to age a beer has no simple answer. Some beer drinkers and brewers will tell you that beer only “tastes best” when it’s fresh. That’s probably not true. Beer is far too wide a category to have many “all or nothing” answers. In fact, plenty of beers are aged (for varying times) before they even reach the bottle and benefit from further aging after they’re bottled. As with almost everything in the food and drinks world, misconceptions, nuances, and exceptions to every rule are at play — making the whole “is beer okay if it’s old?” question a muddled one with no simple solutions.
There are a few factors that make this issue confusing. First, much of the conversation centers around a misunderstanding of the difference between “aging” versus degradation (more on that later). Second, the boom of the craft beer industry has led to a reliance on the hop-forward palates of (many of) its proponents. If you want those huge hoppy notes, you need to drink that beer fresh — generally speaking. Further complicating things, small-time craft brewers often lack the space to age beers at all (even lagers).
Point being, it gets messy. But hey, that’s why we’re here. Hopefully, the info below can give a better understanding of why aging beer (or even “old beer”) can be transcendent and also why fresh beer has its place too.