Can I drink a beer thats been in the fridge for a year?

Having an old beer sitting in your fridge for a long time is a common occurrence for many beer drinkers. You buy a six-pack of your favorite brew, end up only drinking a few, and the rest sit in the back of the fridge, forgotten. Before you know it, months or even a year has gone by. When you rediscover it, the question inevitably comes up – is it still ok to drink?

The Short Answer

The short answer is: probably, but it may not taste very good.

There are a few factors that determine how long beer can last unopened in the fridge:

  • Beer type – Hoppy beers like IPAs degrade faster than malty beers like stouts.
  • ABV percentage – Higher alcohol beers last longer.
  • Storage conditions – Colder storage preserves beer better.
  • Freshness – Fresher beer lasts longer than old beer.

Under optimal conditions (cold storage, high ABV, fresh beer), unopened beer can remain drinkable for over a year. However, the flavor will slowly degrade over time as the hop aroma and bitterness fade. After a year, the beer is still safe to drink but may taste stale or have an off flavor.

With less than ideal conditions, lower ABV beers like lagers may start to taste stale or have a cardboard flavor within 6-9 months. Beers with more hops like IPAs will lose their fresh hoppiness after 3-6 months.

So you can physically drink a beer that’s sat in the fridge for over a year, but it may not taste very good. The beer likely won’t make you sick, but you’ll be drinking it for the alcohol content, not the flavor.

The Long Answer

Now let’s dive deeper into the shelf life of beer and the factors that affect how long it stays fresh and drinkable.

Beer Ingredients and Shelf Life

The four essential ingredients in beer – water, malt, hops and yeast – all impact its flavor stability over time.


The malt provides the sugar that yeast ferments into alcohol and CO2. More malt means more food for the yeast, resulting in higher alcohol levels. Higher alcohol helps preserve beer. Beer styles like barleywines and imperial stouts with starting gravities over 1.080 and ABVs over 8% can age for years.

The type of malt also matters. Pale malts have less flavor stability than roasted malts like chocolate or black malt. Hoppy pale ales turn stale faster than malty stouts.


Hops lend bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer. Unfortunately, the aromatic hop oils that provide fresh “hoppy” flavors degrade quickly over time. IPAs lose their hop punch faster than low-hopped beers like amber ales or lagers.

Beers focused on late hopping and dry hopping during fermentation suffer the most. The more hops and the later they are added, the faster the beer declines.


Yeast turns malt sugars into CO2, alcohol and flavor compounds like esters. Some beer styles rely on yeast-derived flavors more than others.

For example, German-style hefeweizens get their clove and banana flavors from yeast esters. As they age, the fruity esters fade, causing the beer to taste flat. In comparison, the caramel and roasted malt flavors of a stout remain robust over time.


Since 90%+ of beer is water, its mineral content and chemistry have an impact. Very soft water provides little buffering capability against shifts in pH over time. High levels of oxygen in the water can lead to oxidation flavors.

Many classic beer styles come from cities with excellent brewing water. The hard water in Dublin accentuates the roasted barley flavors of Irish stout. The extremely soft water of Plzen brings out the bitterness and hoppiness of Pilsner Urquell.

Factors Impacting Shelf Life

In addition to ingredients, several environmental factors affect how long beer lasts unopened versus opened.

Oxygen Exposure

Oxygen is a sworn enemy of beer freshness. Exposure to O2 after bottling causes stale “cardboard” flavors within months due to oxidation of lipids in the malt, hops, and yeast.

Canning provides a superior oxygen barrier vs bottles. Bottles completely filled and capped immediately after filling have lower oxygen levels than bottles filled on an automated line. Oxygen ingress after opening also speeds up staling.

Light Exposure

Lightstruck “skunky” flavors result from sunlight and fluorescent light interacting with the hop iso-alpha acids in beer. Brown glass blocks most of the wavelengths that cause skunking, while green and clear glass offer less protection. Cans prevent nearly all light exposure.

If a beer can be lightstruck before opening, it will immediately taste skunky when exposed to air. Storing beer away from light preserves freshness.


Higher temperatures accelerate chemical reactions that degrade beer. Storing beer cold in a refrigerator or cool cellar preserves freshness longer vs room temperature storage. Serving beer warmer masks stale flavors, while chilling enhances perception of staleness.

Repeated cycles of cooling beer down then warming back up stresses the brew and speeds up staling. A consistent cold storage temperature extends shelf life the most.


Like milk or eggs, beer has a “born-on” date indicating peak freshness. While beer won’t spoil immediately after that date, its flavor starts declining. The older the beer upon purchase, the faster it will go stale afterwards.

Buying the freshest beer possible, ideally within a month or two of packaging, gives you the longest shelf life. Check bottle/can dates when shopping and select the newest available.

How Storage Conditions Affect Shelf Life

Taking into account all the variables above, let’s look at how long common beer types last under different fridge storage conditions.

Beer Type Optimal Storage Good Storage Average Storage
Light Lager 9-12 months 6-9 months 3-6 months
Pale Ale 6-9 months 3-6 months 2-3 months
IPA 3-6 months 2-3 months 1-2 months
Stout 12-18 months 9-12 months 6-9 months

Optimal Storage: Unopened beer stored cold (35-38°F) in a dark location immediately after purchase. Minimizes oxygen and light exposure.

Good Storage: Beer stored in the back of a refrigerator (38-45°F) with moderate light exposure. A few months old when purchased.

Average Storage: Beer stored in the fridge door (45-50°F) with frequent temperature changes. Over 6 months old upon purchase. Repeat openings.

When to Throw Out Old Beer

No exact rule determines when a beer is too old to drink. Trust your senses:

  • Smell – If it lacks aroma or smells musty or skunky, toss it.
  • Appearance – If it’s clouded or exhibits floaties, don’t drink it.
  • Flavor – An aged yet pleasurable flavor is fine. Stale/cardboard tastes mean discard.
  • Mouthfeel – Flat, thin carbonation is a red flag for old beer.

You can always try a small sample if you’re unsure. But if several negative signs are present, the beer is probably past its prime and best poured out.

Maximizing Beer Freshness

Follow these tips to keep beer tasting its freshest for as long as possible:

  • Buy the freshest beer possible and check package dates
  • Avoid clear and green glass to protect against lightstruck flavors
  • Store beer cold, ideally between 38-45°F
  • Keep beer away from light whenever possible
  • Minimize temperature fluctuations – don’t let beer repeatedly warm up and cool down
  • Drink IPAs and hoppy styles first
  • Finish beers quickly after opening to limit oxygen exposure
  • Don’t age beer with yeast unless you know what you’re doing! Most beer is best fresh.

Keeping Track of Your Inventory

Use a marker to write the purchase date on bottles or cans when you bring them home. Place the oldest beers in front to drink first, and newest in the back. You can also make note of any beers you’re deliberately aging.

Rotate stock so you’re always drinking the oldest beer. This helps ensure you enjoy each beer at peak flavor and minimize waste from stale brew accumulating.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does unopened beer last in the fridge?

Properly stored, unopened beer will last 6-12 months in the fridge depending on style, ABV and freshness level. IPAs decline fastest while high ABV beers last longer. Refrigeration, minimal oxygen exposure, and dark storage all help prolong freshness.

Can old beer make you sick?

Consuming beer past its prime won’t make you sick, but it may not taste good. Flat, stale, or skunky beer flavors result from chemical changes over time, not harmful bacteria. However, if beer shows signs of mold or ropiness, it should be discarded.

Does canned or bottled beer last longer?

Canned beer lasts longer due to less light and oxygen entering the package. Bottles provide good shelf life if filled optimally and have crown caps vs twist-offs. But modern can liners nearly eliminate oxygen pickup and aluminum completely blocks light.

Why does beer get skunky in green bottles?

The iso-alpha acids in hops react with UV and visible light to form “lightstruck” sulfur compounds. Green and clear glass allow wavelengths that trigger this reaction. Brown glass blocks the wavelengths, while cans prevent light entirely. Storing beer in dark conditions prevents skunking.

Is aging beer in the fridge a good idea?

For most modern beer styles, aging in the fridge is unnecessary and potentially detrimental. IPAs, hoppy pale ales, wheats, and lagers are best enjoyed fresh. The exceptions are high-gravity, malt-focused Belgian styles that can develop complexity, but these require warmer cellar temperatures. For everyday beers, err on the side of drinking them young.

The Bottom Line

Storing beer properly by minimizing light, oxygen, and temperature fluctuations can maintain quality for up to a year for many styles. But remember, the clock starts ticking on the beer’s freshness as soon as it’s packaged. The older the beer when you buy it, the shorter the remaining shelf life. With IPAs and other hop-forward styles, you may only have a few months of prime drinking conditions left.

While beer over a year old won’t make you sick, old beer may not taste very good. You can physically drink the beer, but your taste buds may regret it! To get the most enjoyment out of your beers, optimize storage conditions, drink hoppy styles young, and stay vigilant with inventory rotation.

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