Continuing our guest editorial on the wonders and business of beer, acclaimed brewer Neal Cameron says …
Treat Your Beer Like Milk
Beer is at its best straight out of the tank in the brewery. No matter how well it is made, no matter how well it is packaged, it starts to deteriorate and those myriad of delicate flavours will fade.
And there’s a reason why most beers have a best before date of 1 year; not because the beer will still be OK after one year – it will most certainly not be – it is because that is sometimes how long it will sit on a shelf before someone buys it.
Any brewer will tell you that the beer they drink in their brewery tap, or in their local pub has very little in common with a bottle of beer pulled one year later from an unrefrigerated shelf somewhere. Those hundreds of flavour compounds will have broken down and disappeared, or in some cases, changed into something less pleasant.
The analogy of treating beer like milk is sound – that is providing you care about drinking or serving beer at its very best. Without careful refrigeration, within a month of being produced, beer will be losing its delicate charms. Within three months there will be a notable difference in flavour and by six months there will be a significant aged character and much of the joy will be gone. The beer will show papery, oxidized characters, hop aroma will have died in all but the most assertive beers – and any production issues will be showing themselves. In a bad way.
That is, unless the beer has been refrigerated throughout its entire journey, and that means its entire journey; in the brewery, during transport, storage in the warehouse, on its way to the retailer and whilst its waiting for a customer to choose it.
Studies have shown that the aging effect of 300 hundred days at 3° C occurs in just 30 days at 21° C and just three days at 31° C. So that classic Aussie image of a case of beer being chucked in the back of the ute on a sunny outback day? You can almost hear the beer screaming.
And whilst we have the sun in our minds, UV light is also death to a beer. That classic European character you get in green bottles? That’s light-strike, where light is breaking down those delicious hop oils into something resembling the aroma of skunks – hence lightstrike’s other name: skunky. Look for protective brown bottles and don’t expose beer to any UV light, even momentarily, be it the sun, indoor lighting, or god forbid, unfiltered fridge lights.
So, when purchasing beer there’s some simple rules:
- Buy fresh, buy cold and keep it cold
- Check the beer is refrigerated by the producer, the distributor, the delivery driver and most of all, the retailer
- Keep beer moving, don’t buy too much and don’t let it sit on the shelf for too long before making sure it’s sold
Sound too hard? We do it for milk and we do it instinctively. And milk doesn’t even have alcohol in it …
Neal Cameron is director of the Institute of Beer (IOB), brewing director for Beer Farm, and one of country’s most experienced brewers.
The Institute of Beer is the exclusive licensee of the globally renowned Cicerone training in Australia, and a venture formed by Cameron, former Woolworths national liquor purchasing & marketing director Ian Kingham, and brewery aficionado Dave Phillips.