Brown Bottles and Tall Tales: 7 Myths About Storing Beer

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We debunk or confirm the top 7 beer storage myths.

Beer is the third-most widely consumed drink in the world, after water
and tea. It’s also the oldest and most popular alcoholic beverage.
With that kind of demand, it’s not surprising that everyone has an
opinion—opinions that breed myths about the best ways to store, age,
refrigerate, and drink this tasty malted beverage. But we’re here to
clear that all up. Here are seven beer myths exposed to the light of
truth.

1. If Cold Beer Gets Warm, Cooling It Again Will Make It Stale

Wrong! Like Valentine’s Day, this is a myth brought on by some wily
marketing gurus, most likely that brand that won’t stop talking about
how “cold” their beer is. The fact is, beer experiences substantial
fluctuations in temperature during shipping. Of course, you don’t want
these changes to be drastic, and excessive heat will certainly ruin
your beer. But the notion that it can only be refrigerated once is a
total myth.

2. Sunlight Skunks Beer

True! Sunlight is the nemesis of beer—not only in storage but in the
fermentation process as well. Ultraviolet light, in particular,
“skunks” beer. But before I explain how, it’s probably a good idea to
clarify the difference between staleness and “skunkiness.”

There are “off” flavors, and then there are “skunky” flavors; the
former is the result of poor carbonation or excessive heat, and the
latter—an odorous, rubbery taste—is the result of a photochemical
reaction. Specifically, UV light breaks up acids in the hop plant (an
essential bittering agent in beer) to create a nasty little compound
called “3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol.” or “MBT.” This wordy concoction
combines with other sulfurous chemicals to create a horrid odor that
is darn close that of a skunk, and even more oppressing in the
realization that your precious brew has been ruined. In fact,
researchers at the University of North Carolina even found a
similarity between the chemical composition of skunked beer and that
of the anal glands of actual skunks.

The lesson? Don’t expose your beer to excessive sunlight—or really any
light for that matter. It’s just another reason to refrigerate beer,
as even prolonged indirect sunlight will cause this very basic
chemical reaction. Interestingly, this is not a threat with wine,
cider, or mash liquor, as none of these beverages contain hops.

3. The Color of the Bottle Affects Beer’s Shelf Life

Yes and no. It’s not the color of the bottle so much as its
translucence that affects beer’s long-term quality. Clear and green
bottles allow in significantly more UV light than brown ones. This
leads to skunking, as mentioned above. So if you were to store green
or clear bottles in complete darkness, then there would be no
discernible difference in shelf life from that of a brown bottle in
similar conditions.

bottlesCROP.jpg
Green doesn't necessarily mean good.
For whatever reason, green bottles are rife among European imports
(Heineken, Stella Artois, Beck’s, and Pilsner Urquell, to name a few).
You may even have noticed that these brews are much better on tap
(from a opaque keg) than in the bottle—but you could argue the same
for any beer.

Once again, this is really only a threat if you don’t refrigerate your
beer, as coolers and refrigerators keep sunlight out. It is worth
noting, though, that beer that’s been sitting on the store shelf for a
while is at a higher risk of skunking or going stale. For this reason,
most craft beers include a “freshness” tab that tells you how long
it’s been since it was bottled.

4. Beer Must Be Shipped, Stored, and Aged Cold

So, so wrong. In fact, certain kinds of beer—mainly unpasteurized,
bottle-conditioned craft beer—can be aged in cellars, just like wine!
While cooler temperatures are ideal, most experts agree that anywhere
in the 40-70 degree range is fine for dry storage—again, as long as
you keep out the sunlight.

Refrigeration is a crucial part of enjoying good beer. But it’s
actually discouraged when it comes to long-term storage of corked
beers, used mainly for Belgian-style ales. Despite some fridges’
abilities to regulate humidity levels, Beer Advocate explains that
prolonged storage in artificial cooling chambers will dry out the
cork, allow small amounts of air to enter, and eventually spoil the
beer. Best to age these beers in a cellar with moderate humidity,
which describes pretty much every cellar ever.

5. Putting Beer in the Freezer Is an Easy Way to “Quick Chill” It

This is true, but with a caveat: Do not ever freeze beer. Anyone who’s
ever put a brew in the freezer to chill it but then forgot it was in
there knows how disastrous this scenario can be. 70-proof liquor (or
higher) is fine, but beer will explode when frozen.

That said, placing a beer in the freezer for a few minutes should be
fine. Even then you should be careful, as you may still alter the
taste of the beer. According to the American Homebrewers Association,
freezing beer alters the molecular structure of the proteins in the
beverage. It can also reduce the carbonation level and, in the case of
bottle-conditioned brew, possibly kill the yeast.

On a related note, the Eisbock style of beer (like the infamous Naty
Ice) uses intentional freezing in the production process. Brewers
chill the beer to the point where it partially freezes. They then
remove the slushy parts, so as to create a more concentrated and
alcoholic beverage (water freezes at a higher temperature than ethyl
alcohol). However, this process usually reduces the hop and malt
presence in favor of the alcohol itself.

But if you really want to impress your friends, the LG “Blast Chiller”
is perhaps the most extravagant—and downright silly—way to cool beer
quickly. Despite our well-documented enthusiasm for this awesome
feature, it has yet to materialize in a commercially available
refrigerator. [Update: It has materialized! LG contacted us to let us
know it's been available since July. Let the good times roll.]

6. Beer Should Be Stored Upright.

True. There are a few reasons why beer should not be placed on its
side, and this applies to both corked and capped bottles, and
especially to bottle-conditioned brews.

First, the yeast—that magical little organism that eats sugar and
poops out alcohol and carbon dioxide (the process of fermentation).
Yeast is critical to beer, but the sediment it leaves behind has a way
of corrupting flavor; you want the yeast sediment (dead cells and
chemical byproducts) to settle at the bottom of the beer. According to
Beer Advocate, prolonged storage on the side will create a “yeast
ring” along the walls of the bottle. This is why there’s a separate
craft to pouring beer, and why you’re supposed to decant the liquid
and “filter” out the gunk at the bottom.


It's not wine, people. Stand it up.
Second, upright storage limits the amount of beer that’s directly
exposed to air (the neck of a bottle is narrower than the barrel).
This slows the process of oxidation and prolongs the life of the beer.

Finally, upright storage is especially important for corked beers.
When a beer is stored on its side, the cork—by virtue of being in
contact with the beer—will gradually impart its own cork flavors on
the beer, and some corks contain chemicals and other ingredients that
will exacerbate this “corruption” of the beer.

7. Bottles Are Better Than Cans.

Wrong! Well, actually, this all comes down to personal taste. Canned
beer has gotten a bad rap in recent decades because it’s often
associated with mass-market, “cheap” beer. However, craft brewers are
beginning to can their beer—212 breweries, according to CraftCans.com,
including notable names like Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery.


Easy to open and apparently not substantially better than bottled
beer. What's not to love?
Some craft brew fanatics even swear by the distinctive flavor of
canned brew. The Huffington Post even conducted a blind taste test and
found participants preferred the taste of canned beer to bottled three
times out of four. But putting taste aside, you can’t deny that canned
beer is much easier to store and transport—not to mention, you don’t
need a bottle opener.

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A native of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Tyler has come to see
himself as Reviewed.com’s utility infielder. He has red hair, if you
see him.

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