While the inventory at Trader Joe’s markets varies from store to store, the beer selection at many of the locations has expanded as craft beer has caught on with mainstream shoppers, but there are a few caveats to beer-shopping at TJ’s.
The biggest pitfall is getting a six-pack of old beer. Freshness is a huge part of tasty beer, and bottles that spend time on the warm shelves of your local market degrade faster than you might realize. Most craft breweries say their beer is best in the first 120 days after leaving the brewery, but this window assumes cold storage. Beer at room temperature stales much faster than cold-stored bottles.
Thankfully, many of the best brands for sale in Trader Joe's print date codes (either a “bottled on” date or a “best by” date) on the packaging. Freshness is especially important when dealing with the ever-popular hoppy brews like IPAs: hop character is the first thing to fade in old beer, so check those bottles for date codes! Anything under 90 days old should be acceptable, and if you see a bottle that’s under 30 days old you’re in for a fresh treat.
One private label beer that’s just hitting local shelves is the annual Trader Joe's Vintage Ale. This spice-tinged Belgian-style ale is brewed by Quebec’s beloved Unibroue -- makers of La Fin Du Monde and Blanche de Chambly -- and the 750ml bottles are an outright steal at under $5. Grab a couple of extras, and if you have bottles left after the new year then pack them away with the Christmas decorations and see how they taste alongside next year’s batch.