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How are "ready dates" determined?

How does Northern Brewer determine the “ready dates” for kits? I’ve been ordering extract kits for over 7 years, and I’ve never had one that didn’t taste fully mature 1-2 months beyond the “ready” date, even relatively simple brews.

The Bourbon Barrel Porter in particular has a ready date of 2 months, but I found it quite oaky and lacking the clean, crispness of a truly “ready” beer until it reached the 5 month mark. At 6 months it was awesome – smooth and creamy. If I hadn’t kept any past 2-4 months I’d have thought it was a bad recipe.

Maybe some type of “ready range” would be more helpful, especially to new home brewers?

This is an excellent question. But I believe the answer is largely subjective. In theory, the beer is “ready” as soon as primary fermentation is done. But we all know that flavors will continue to develop well beyond that point. So the question is… As a brewer, what type of flavors are you looking for? Do you need to wait a while to get those or are they where they need to be right out of the gate?

I would imagine that those dates are more for marketing purposes to new brewers who want to taste their beer right away.

Also, their definition of “ready” probably just means that fermentation is done and the bottles have had two weeks to carb up, which - in most cases, is 4-6 weeks.

But I would agree, most beers - from a kit or otherwise - are not really at their peak until several weeks after bottling/kegging.

I can’t think of a better way to turn people off than to have them do their first “big” 5 gallon batch and then expect it to taste great a month from their brew date. On the numerous simple ales that are described as ready in 4-6 weeks, 2 months often means 100% better in taste, maybe especially if you didn’t do the greatest job following instructions, oxygenating the wort, etc. On something as strong and complex as the Bourbon Barrel Porter where you put half a bottle of Maker’s Mark into it, 2 months really seems inaccurate. That batch went from “fairly bad” at 2 months to “this is one of the best beers we’ve ever had” 3-4 months later.

+1
Time is in fact your friend for most brews.
Patience, though, seems pretty rare in the homebrew world.
The solution is of course to brew often enough that you always have properly matured beer as other batches get their flavors together.

+1
Time is in fact your friend for most brews.
Patience, though, seems pretty rare in the homebrew world.
The solution is of course to brew often enough that you always have properly matured beer as other batches get their flavors together.[/quote]

+1 more.
The beer itself will tell you when it’s ready. When I first started, I (like most others (I suspect) treated the “let ferment for 2 weeks, then bottle” as gospel. I would brew, then like clockwork, I would bottle it 2 weeks later, after checking the gravity and writing it down. 2 weeks later I would pop one and often be underwhelmed. As I learned more, and by a quirk in timing not letting me bottle for an extra week (oh, the horrors!) which resulted in the best beer I ever made, I now won’t even bother checking the beer until 3 weeks are past. I look in for the first few days to make sure things appear to be progressing, and that it’s not blown the top or anything, but will not open till that 3 weeks. Check the gravity, then check again a couple days later to make sure that it’s done. At that point, I’ll bottle, then put it away for at least another 3 weeks. i don’t drink quickly, so I do have a chance to see them develop over time.

It’s all about marketing to new customers. A lot of prospective brewers would be turned off by reading “ready in 4-6 months”. If you want to see an extreme example of this, take a look at wine kits. You can buy 4, 6 or 8 week kits, but I would chalenge most folks to claim that any of them are good enough to drink in less than 3 months. Most improve if given 1-2 years.

It’s all relative to expectation. If you’re used to basic lawnmower beer, and drink a home brew two weeks in the bottle, it’s going to seem better. If you want to compare homebrew against the better craft brews, then without question, proper maturation is required.

If you’re new and need to develop technique, it would take a lifetime to get good if you had to wait 6 months to a year for feedback on each batch.

That said, it would be better if recipes had a bit more to say on aging, but that’s not just a NB fault. OTOH, when you read the customer reviews of just about every recipe kit offered you’ll find at least one or two that take the form, “I thought this sucked at first, then tried another bottle 2 months later and now this is my favorite beer ever!” So the information is there if you’re looking for it.

Beers are ready when they are properly carbonated and when they taste ready.

I always taste a beer or two after just a week or two in the bottle. If it tastes great, I begin drinking it from that point on. If not, I give it more time.

In general, what you will find is:

  1. Wheat beers and IPAs are generally best served very young, within a month or two of end of fermentation.

  2. Lagers can taste great young but will usually taste even better if you can let them sit for at least a good 3-4 months. It cleans them up better and gives them a smoother malt flavor, and with age you can even pick up some of that authentic “imported German” flavor which is a combination of the German malts and slight oxidation due to age.

  3. High alcohol beers of about 7.5% ABV or more may last for years and often taste their best after at least a year. Age rounds out the alcohol and all the other big flavors from malts and hops, and just makes it taste less harsh. Of course… if your high alcohol beer tastes excellent within a few weeks of bottling/kegging, then by all means, go ahead and drink it! But maybe save a couple bottles for future years so you can see how it evolves over time. You might be VERY surprised at how smooth it gets.

  4. Most other beer styles will taste great right away and often don’t change a whole lot either from when they are a few weeks old to over the course of a year or so. Once beer gets old and goes stale, it develops a certain wet cardboard taste, and the hop flavors and bitterness will seem to eventually disappear. If you ever taste an IPA or any style of beer after it has aged for 2, 3, 4 years or more, it won’t taste hoppy at all anymore. The same is true even for high alcohol beers. So there is always the tradeoff.

Bottom line I think is that in general, a beer should be consumed as young as when it tastes great. No need to age a lager or high alcohol brew if it tastes awesome at one or two months in the bottle or keg. But it’s always a good idea also to save a couple bottles for the future so when you do eventually pop them, you know what you might have been missing. It can be a very educational experience.

[quote=“dmtaylo2”]if your high alcohol beer tastes excellent within a few weeks of bottling/kegging, then by all means, go ahead and drink it! But maybe save a couple bottles for future years so you can see how it evolves over time. You might be VERY surprised at how smooth it gets.

[/quote]

I wish someone had given this advice so long ago. Granted I probably wouldn’t have been capable of heeding it, but still. Setting aside a few from each batch to age has been very fun and rewarding.

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