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Things To Look Out For When Reading A Beer Label

Reading and understanding a beer label can be an overwhelming task. But it is essential to know the parameters which are printed on the label so that the next time you walk into the store, you know exactly what you’re buying.

Beer labels convey a compelling message and bridge the gap between perception and reality. In this article, we go over some of the most vital parameters to help you read a label like a pro.


ABV (Alcohol By Volume) is the measurement of alcohol content expressed as a percentage of total volume. It varies by beer style. Typically, commercial lagers range somewhere between 4-7% while heavier styles like Imperial Stouts or Barleywines can exceed 12%. Assessing ABV also helps to promote responsible drinking and keeps you under the legal limit.


IBU or International Bitterness Units are a scale to measure the actual bitterness of a beer. To be specific, IBUs measure the amount of isohumulone present in a beer. This scale should only be used as a basic guide as, to a beer drinker, this can be a little tricky as it is often confused with perceived bitterness.

Bottled/Canned Date

The bottled or canned date on a beer label indicates the date it was packaged on. It will let you know if you’re getting the fresh stuff. This doesn’t indicate the shelf life of the beer but depending upon the beer style, it comes in handy should you choose to age your beer.

Best Before Date

Best before date is expressed in different ways on the beer label. It is often printed as ‘enjoy by’, ‘best by’ or ‘best before’. These timestamps are essential for customers to assess the shelf life of a beer. The date also depends on production methods where few of the styles are pasteurized.

Hop forward ales such as Pale Ales and IPAs must be consumed as fresh as possible. On the other hand, beer styles such as Imperial Stout, Belgian Dubbel, Barleywine etc. could be aged for years.

Brewer’s Notes

Flavour characteristics vary a lot from beer to beer. Some of the beer labels which are part of a limited release have personalised brewer notes which talk about the style of beer, brewing or its ageing process. Therefore, it is important to check the label to understand the style and its ageing process, so that you know what to expect out of it.

Brewer World Editorial