Beer can last for several weeks or even months in an unrefrigerated keg if stored properly. However, the quality and taste will slowly deteriorate over time. Refrigeration helps slow this process down by keeping the beer cold. Here’s a more in-depth look at how long beer lasts in an unrefrigerated keg and what factors impact shelf life.
How Long Does Beer Last in an Unrefrigerated Keg?
An unopened, unrefrigerated keg of beer will generally last:
- Pale lagers and pilsners: 8-12 weeks
- India Pale Ales (IPAs): 4-8 weeks
- Stouts and porters: 4-12 weeks
- Belgian beers: 4-10 weeks
- Wheat beers: 6-10 weeks
Once tapped, an unrefrigerated keg will last:
- Pale lagers and pilsners: 4-6 weeks
- IPAs: 2-4 weeks
- Stouts and porters: 3-6 weeks
- Belgian beers: 3-5 weeks
- Wheat beers: 4-6 weeks
These time frames assume proper storage conditions are met (see tips below). The lower alcohol and hop content of lagers and pilsners allow them to last a bit longer, while IPAs have higher hop levels and degrade fastest.
What Factors Impact an Unrefrigerated Keg’s Shelf Life?
Several variables influence how long beer lasts in an unrefrigerated keg:
- Beer style: As noted above, IPAs and other hop-forward styles have shorter shelf lives than lower-alcohol lagers and pilsners.
- ABV: Higher alcohol beers typically last longer unrefrigerated compared to lower ABV beers.
- Hop levels: Beers with more hops degrade faster due to oxidation.
- Malt bill: Sweeter, malt-focused beers may last a bit longer than drier, highly attenuated beers.
- Yeast type: Some yeast strains produce beers more resistant to aging than others.
- Adjuncts/additions: Spices, fruit, coffee, etc. can impact shelf life.
- Storage conditions: Timelines assume proper storage – warm temps, light exposure and oxygen ingress hasten staling.
- Packaging: Draft beer in kegs stales faster than bottled/canned beer due to oxygen exposure.
How to Store an Unrefrigerated Keg to Prolong Shelf Life
While refrigeration extends the shelf life of tapped and untapped kegs, you can still get weeks or months out of an unrefrigerated keg using these tips:
- Store kegs in a cool, dry place away from light sources.
- Avoid storage areas with temperature fluctuations that could cause condensation.
- Once tapped, purge the keg with CO2 or a CO2/Nitrogen gas blend regularly to limit oxygen exposure.
- Ensure proper gas coverage in the headspace at all times to prevent air ingestion.
- Use air-tight tubing and couplings on the tap to prevent leaks/oxygen entering.
- Keep the keg upright and don’t agitate – movements stir up sediment and hasten staling.
- If not using a picnic tap, clean and sanitize faucet lines regularly.
- Finish the keg as soon as possible once tapped – don’t let it sit partly empty for long periods.
Signs Your Unrefrigerated Keg Beer is Going Bad
Detecting when your unrefrigerated keg beer is past its prime can prevent serving compromised brews. Look for these common signs of aging/oxidized beer:
- Diminished head retention and lacing
- Translucent, darker appearance
- Fading hop aromas and flavor
- Malt flavors turn papery or cardboard-like
- Develops sherry, vinegar or wet paper notes
- Becomes metallic tasting
- Loses vibrancy and starts tasting flat/one-dimensional
An unrefrigerated keg may look and smell ok at first glance for weeks or months, then suddenly taste stale upon pouring. Always sample the beer if aging is suspected before serving. Trust your senses – if the beer seems off in any way, it’s best not to serve it.
Does Unrefrigerated Keg Beer Go Bad or Become Unsafe?
While beer in an unrefrigerated keg will eventually degrade in taste and aroma, it does not necessarily become unsafe or dangerous to drink. Some things to keep in mind:
- Beer is quite resistant to microbial spoilage due to its alcohol, pH, hops and low oxygen levels. An unrefrigerated keg is unlikely to become contaminated or spoiled in a way that makes it undrinkable.
- That said, signs like ropey/viscous texture, mold, pronounced medicinal or solvent flavors can indicate microbial issues.
- If a keg shows signs of contamination, it’s best to not serve it.
- Aging impacts flavor more than safety – old beer may not taste great but is often still safe to consume.
- Don’t let fears of foodborne illness force you to drain a keg – use your judgment based on smell and taste.
In most cases, beer in an unrefrigerated keg simply becomes stale, not spoiled. With proper handling, an unrefrigerated keg can last weeks or longer without becoming unsafe to drink. That said, err on the side of caution if you notice any off flavors or appearances.
Maximizing Freshness for Untapped Unrefrigerated Kegs
To maximize the shelf life of an unopened, unrefrigerated keg:
- Store in a cool, dark place around 55°F if possible.
- Limit temperature fluctuations – store somewhere with a stable environment.
- Keep the keg upright and still – agitation can stir up yeast and shorten shelf life.
- If possible, use kegs with screen-printed graphics rather than paper labels, which can peel off over time.
- Seek out well-made, fresher beer – robust beers with higher ABVs generally have longer shelf lives.
- Opt for styles like lagers and stouts that hold up better unrefrigerated compared to heavily hopped IPAs.
- Purchase kegs as close to packaging date as possible – ask when they were filled.
- Consume untapped kegs within the recommended time frames listed earlier.
Why Refrigeration Extends Keg Shelf Life
Refrigerating kegs is highly recommended because colder temperatures slow down most processes that cause beer to degrade in an unrefrigerated keg, including:
- Hop aromatic deterioration – Cooler temps preserve hop aromas and flavors.
- Oxidation – Slower chemical reactions minimize staling from oxidation.
- Aging and Maillard reactions – Complex malt and hop compounds break down slower when cold.
- Volatiles loss – Chilling helps keep aromatic compounds in solution.
- Autolysis – Cold restricts yeast activity that produces off flavors.
For best quality and longevity, always store and serve beer as cold as possible without freezing. For kegs, 38°F is an ideal serving temperature. Refrigeration helps beers hold up weeks or months longer before going stale.
Tips for Refrigerating Kegs
When refrigerating kegs, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Use a kegerator or cold room if possible, maintaining 38-42°F.
- Submerge upright kegs in ice chests filled with ice water.
- Store tapped kegs in coolers with picnic taps.
- Replace melted ice regularly to keep water ice cold.
- Consider using an external thermometer to monitor storage temperature.
- Don’t rely solely on a cold room’s thermostat – validate actual temperature.
- Once a keg is refrigerated, minimize temperature fluctuations.
Refrigerating a keg preserves freshness but isn’t foolproof over many months. Periodically check refrigerated kegs for signs of aging like diminished aroma, fading color and diminished carbonation.
Does Refrigeration Prolong Shelf Life Indefinitely?
While refrigeration extends the shelf life of kegged beer, it does not make it last indefinitely. Some things to keep in mind:
- Refrigeration only slows down staling reactions – it does not stop them completely.
- Over time, refrigerated beer will still slowly oxidize, lose aromatics and undergo aging reactions.
- IPAs and hoppy styles will lose their fresh hoppiness sooner than other styles.
- After several months, degradation can accelerate even when refrigerated.
- Periodically evaluate refrigerated kegs for signs of aging like diminished foam and aroma.
- Aim to finish refrigerated kegs within 6-9 months for best quality.
- If aging flavors emerge, consider tapping a new keg for optimal freshness.
Refrigeration helps maximize shelf life, but no beer stays fresh forever. For peak quality, plan to finish refrigerated kegs within months not years.
How Long Do Growlers Last Unrefrigerated?
Growlers are smaller containers, typically 64 oz or half a gallon. When unopened, growlers will last:
- Hoppy styles like IPAs – 2-4 days
- Amber ales and porters – 5-7 days
- Lagers and pilsners – 7-10 days
- Strong ales – Up to 2 weeks
Once opened, growlers should be consumed within:
- 24 hours for hoppy styles like IPAs.
- 2-3 days for most ales.
- 5 days maximum for lagers and pilsners.
Growlers provide less protection against oxygen than kegs. Drink growlers faster, especially hoppy beers prone to oxidation. Keep them refrigerated whenever possible to extend freshness.
Can you store a keg on its side?
Kegs should be stored upright, not on their side. Laying a keg on its side risks stirring up sediment and exposing more surface area to oxygen which can accelerate staling. Store kegs vertically for best results.
How long can an opened keg be stored?
Once tapped, finish an open keg as quickly as possible for maximum freshness. Properly stored, open kegs can last:
- 2-4 weeks for IPAs
- 4-6 weeks for lagers, wheat beers and ales
- Up to 2 months for high ABV styles
Does shaken beer go bad?
Shaking or jostling a keg can stir up sediment and hasten staling. Allow agitated beer 24-48 hours to settle before serving. Taste the beer – if it seems oxidized or stale, it may be nearing the end of its shelf life.
Can old keg beer make you sick?
Consuming beer past its prime is unlikely to cause illness. While aging impairs the taste, old keg beer is typically still safe to drink. Signs of spoilage like off aromas, colors, or textures can indicate contamination making the beer unsafe.
The Bottom Line
An unrefrigerated keg of beer can last anywhere from weeks to months depending on the style and storage conditions. IPAs and heavily hopped beers have shorter shelf lives around 4-8 weeks, while lower alcohol lagers may last up to 3 months. Refrigeration can extend these time frames substantially. Regardless of refrigeration, eventually all beer will show signs of aging like diminishing aroma, changing color and progressively stale flavors. With optimal handling and storage conditions, kegs can remain usable for quite some time without refrigeration. But for absolute peak quality and flavor, consuming the beer within weeks is ideal.