The third post in the Cicerone Certified Beer Server post series is all about storing beer. Beer is almost never drank immediately when ready. It generally travels a fair distance and is consumed over a period of time. How this beer is stored during this period can hurt or help it greatly. Let’s take a look at how this affects the beer itself and you, the server.
1. Beer is Best When Consumed Fresh
This may sound obvious, but the majority of beers out there taste their very best when drank immediately. As soon as a beer has carbonation, it’s ready to drink. Heck, it doesn’t even need to leave the brewery!
When a beer has finished the brewing and fermentation process at the brewery and is ready to go into the keg/can/bottle, it’s also ready to be consumed. That’s right, there’s no magic process that happens when it is put into the keg or bottle that makes it better. As long as we’re not talking about bottle fermented beers or real ale, the beer is ready when fermentation is complete.
This is why many breweries have brewpubs attached to them. This way, you can serve the beer as soon as possible. Some beers, like Russian River’s Pliny The Elder are meant to be consumed in a very short amount of time. Stone has followed suit and has created their “Enjoy By IPA” series that has the expiration date printed right on the label as part of the beer name, so it can’t be missed. These beers are ready from the moment they are completely fermented and carbonated.
B. To Cellar or Not To Cellar
While beer is best consumed as soon as possible after brewing, some beers do better when aged or conditioned. These beers, while still good from day 1, can take on new and interesting flavors when aged correctly. This must be done the right way, however, like we covered in this post on Storing beers.
Generally, beers that are higher in alcohol or have intense flavors in them do best when aged. Refer to the post above on cellaring to learn more about the correct practices in this. If a beer is cellared correctly, it can be aged anywhere from 6 months on to multiple years, like the Stone’s Vertical Epic Series. Basically, keep the temperature cool but not cold, constant, and keep as much light out as possible. With no light and a constant, cool temperature beer will age very well. It’s all about consistency here. Don’t age in a cooler or anywhere where the temperature will fluctuate, like near a heater, or vent for a furnace or refrigerator.
2. Freshness Preserved by the Wholesaler and Retailer
A. Inventory MUST Be Rotated
This sounds like a no brainer, but the “first in, last out” methodology needs to be employed from the wholesaler down to the retailer. This keeps beer from getting too old or light-damaged at any point of it’s journey from the producer. Every beer has some form of dating on it. The most common is the Julian Date Code system.
So, using the Julian Date Code system, you can tell how old a bottle, case, or keg of beer is. Product may not come to you in the order it was produced if your distributor doesn’t pay attention, so make sure the oldest product goes out first.
If you find a product that is well over the consumable age for that specific beer, do not sell it. Old beer will not taste right, and your customers will know, or might get the wrong impression from a beer and think they don’t like it, when the only issue is the age.
What If There’s No Date?
If there is no date on the product in question, use this general reference:
- Non-pasteurized beer – 45-60 days if refrigerated
- Pasteurized beer – 90-120 days if refrigerated
- Bottled beer
- 6 months if continually refrigerated
- 3 months if not refrigerated
If you question a beer’s age, test it against another of the same beer that you know the freshness of.
B. Storing The Beer Properly
Unless you are aging a beer, the best way to store it is to keep it constantly refrigerated. This slows down any degradation of the product and keeps the beer from getting hazy when cooled again. This includes bottles, cans, as well as kegs or any other beer dispensing container. If you don’t keep the beer cold constantly, the off-flavors that come from aging beer are increased and are created much quicker. These generally refers to the oxidation of beer and the skunking of beer due to light damage.
As I just mentioned, beer in a bottle can “skunk” due to light damage. This is caused by lights breaking down volatiles in a beer and causing off flavors. In a clear container like a growler, this can happen in minutes, hence the brown coloring of most beer bottles. Green bottle provide slightly more protection than clear glass, but not much. Brown bottles are the best, but still need to be stored in their case with the top closed to keep as much light out as possible. Obviously, cans are the best at blocking light, which is one reason they are on the rise as a craft beer container.
C. Serving The Beer Properly
Draught beer is served using a CO2 or CO2-Nitrogen mix system in the draft dispensing system. This is how the beer is driven from keg to draught and constant pressure is achieved. Never use anything but CO2 or a CO2-nitrogen system for dispensing beer. Every beer comes with instructions on the system that should be used. Using something like compressed air will ruin the beer and should never be used. Things like party pumps or hand-pumps for kegs can be used for up to one day, as the beer is put in direct contact with air, oxidizing it quickly. This is why a CO2-type system is used, as CO2 and Nitrogen are inert when it comes to beer.
That’s it! I know, this was a lot of information, but if you’re serious about serving beer correctly, this is information you need to know. Check back for the next post in the Certified Beer Server series on glassware for beer. Until then,