Q & Ale – Can beer that’s cold be brought up to room temperature and stored without ruining it?

question and aleRecently, my friend Bobby emailed with a beer question.  He had a charity event where they had cans of Hopworks chilled in tubs of ice.  He wanted to know if it was ok to bring them up to room temperature so they could be stored or if they had to remain chilled.  Will it ruin the beer if it’s brought back to room temperature?  This is actually a very common question and myth I encounter in my daily life as a member of the beer industry or see on beer forums such as Reddit.  Today’s Q & Ale is: Can beer that’s cold be brought up to room temperature and stored without ruining it?

The short answer is “Yes, you can bring it up to room temperature again.  No, it won’t ruin the beer.”

The enemies of beer are time, oxygen, light, & heat.  Light causes an issue separate from this questions, so we’ll ignore it until a later post.  The other 3 actually work in concert to ruin beer.

No matter how hard brewers try, there is always some oxygen remaining inside the beer container.  Even the best brewery still worries about oxygen ingress.  New bottle cap technology has helped some, but even the best will still let some oxygen get in.  Given time, that oxygen will “oxidize” the beer creating the chemical Trans-2 Nonenal, also known as E-2 Nonenal, which is particularly prevalent in beers that have been way to warm too long.  This chemical creates the classic wet paper or cardboard aromas that signal “this beer is old.”  Keeping the beer cool will slow this process down.

Beer Freshness % Over Time

In this chart, you see how beer freshness degrades over time at various temperatures, assuming that temperature is constant. (Chart from “Beer Steward Handbook: A Practical Guide to Understanding Beer”)

This is why many breweries, from large to small, try to ensure that their beer is kept cold for as much of its time as possible.  Many breweries ship refrigerated and require their wholesalers to store their beer cold.  If breweries can keep the beer as cold as possible for as long as possible, that beer’s shelf life will be extended so that when it hits the retailer’s shelves and ultimately yours, the beer will taste as close to “brewery fresh” as possible.

But how does the process of taking a beer, chilling it down, then bringing it back to room temperature, storing it for a while on a display, then putting it back into cold storage affect it?

Beer Freshness chart

This chart shows the effect of storing a beer at different temperatures, including one that shows what happens if the beer’s storage temperature varies. (Chart from “Beer Steward Handbook: A Practical Guide to Understanding Beer”)

As you can see from the chart the baseline temperature that beer freshness overtime is calculated at is 70°F.  Additionally, breweries, on average, figure that they want their beer tasting about 70% of “brewery fresh” by the time it reaches its pull date.  At 70% of original freshness, most consumers will taste very little difference between fresh and pull date beer.  According to the chart, if the beer is kept at room temperature for its entire life, it should reach its pull date approximately 110-120 days after packaging.  As the red line (the line on the left) indicates, it will degrade much faster at a higher temperature.

The line with the bends in it is the one that is of interest to us.  This one shows the effects of the temperature going through what would be considered a normal life cycle, including cold shipping and storage with some displays and room temperature storage mixed in for good measure.  The end result of taking a cold beer to room temperature?  You just shave a bit of overall “fresh” lifespan from the beer.

I’m not sure where this myth comes from, but it’s a fairly persistent one.  The only thing that might happen is permanent chill haze if the beer is subjected to repeated temperature shifts from cold to warm.  Chill haze or protein haze occurs when a beer is chilled quickly and the proteins in solution come out of solution.  If the beer’s temperature is raised, they go back into solution.  If they, however, don’t go back into solution after repeated temperature shifts, it only affects the beer visually.  It won’t taste any different.

So, hopefully this will give you some understanding how freshness in beer is measured, maintained, and affected by time and temperature.  Keep your beer as cold as you can without freezing it for as long as you can.  But if you need to store it at room temperature after it’s been cold, don’t worry, it won’t hurt your beer!

NOTE: The numbers used above are most commonly associated with domestic lagers.  Most medium to larger craft breweries will have tested their own beers and determined their own procedures and dates.  These numbers will also vary based on the style of the beer.

MBAABeerStewardLogoNOTE: The MBAA is the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.   It was founded in 1887 and is one of the largest brewery trade groups in the world, ranging from large breweries to small breweries.  They have members all over the world.  These folks have done a lot of research over the years on every aspect of beer and beer production.  In other words, they know what they’re talking about.  They are the ones who organized the “Beer Steward” program which tests people on their beer knowledge.  I’m a Beer Steward, their second level.  Eventually, they’ll introduce a Master Beer Steward level.

You can read more Q & Ale questions and answers here.  If you have a beer questions, please use the Contact Me link here or above and ask me!

References

Beer Steward Handbook: A Practical Guide to Understanding Beer, Edited by Sephen R. Holle, 2012 (The Master Brewer’s Association of the Americas)

The Oxford Companion to Beer, Edited by Garrett Oliver, 2012 (Oxford University Press)

11 responses to “Q & Ale – Can beer that’s cold be brought up to room temperature and stored without ruining it?

  1. For the past couple years, I’ve made a pitstop at Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine during our summer vacations. I usually pick up a mixed case (12 16 ounce bottles), but the issue is that they keep it all refrigerated, so I’ve always been worried about the whole “skunked” beer thing (it would suck to destroy $100 worth of delicious beer!). Briefly spoke with the brewer one year and he said exactly the same thing that you did. He said to try my best to keep it cold, but don’t worry about occasional temperature swings. I’m happy to report that the beer has survived the journey home in less than optimal temperature conditions.

    Great post!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

      • Maybe that’s why the rumor is so persistent. Growing out of a time when many people would think nothing about leaving beer in a hot garage or trunk over a period time. As info like this started to get shared, people who cared started treating their beer better.

      • Also, historically speaking, beer would have been a far more unstable product when brewing methods weren’t as reliable and refrigeration was less prevalent or reliable. Beer warming up could go bad very quickly if there were extra bugs in it.

  2. Pingback: MR | First Edition, April 2014 | Drunken Speculation·

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