A Beer Geek’s Guide to Storing & Serving Temperatures

As you may know, heat is one of beer’s big enemies. It can promote oxidation, which is what happens when natural compounds within the beer react with oxygen leading to off flavors in your beer. Heat can also result in flavor loss altogether, creating a bland product that is in no way reflective of the beer in its original state. It can even age a beer at a more rapid rate and for beer stored at various temperatures with other conditions remaining the same, at 100°F the beer will remain okay for about a week, two months when stored at 70°F and for up to a year at 40°F. Simply put, the lower the temperature the longer the beer is preserved.

Ice Cold Beer

From storage tips to serving temperatures, let’s take a closer look at the many factors that can have an affect on the overall quality of your beer.

Avoid Both Heat & Light

So, how much heat can you expose your beer to? Well, as a general guideline, if you don’t have any more room in the fridge, room temperature storage is acceptable so long as the beer is kept out of the reach of another enemy — light.

Light can have a far more detrimental impact than heat, resulting in off flavors. Though, the thing about heat, as previously mentioned, is that it ages the beer more quickly. So, if you plan on storing the beer for an extended period of time before cracking it open, it’s advisable to keep it at a lower temperature.

Storing Beer: Kegerator vs. Refrigerator

A refrigerator will certainly get the job done, but if you don’t have the space then you’ll need to find a better solution. In this case, a kegerator is the optimal solution as it provides an environment that is always cool and dark but unlike your household refrigerator, the door isn’t opened nearly as often helping to avoid frequent temperature changes.

However, those with kegerators should be far more mindful of its interior temperature than how you would be with a household refrigerator mainly because of the contents. Chances are a keg of beer will last and sit longer in the kegerator than a gallon of milk or last night’s leftovers would in the fridge.

Tips for Monitoring Your Kegerator Temperature

To ensure that your kegerator is holding the proper temperatures, you should first make sure that it is properly sealed. Over time, the insulation may move or need adjusting or replacement so make sure that the door is properly sealing all the way around at all times.

EdgeStar KC7000SSTWIN Kegerator

Also, ensure that the temperature inside the unit is actually what it should be. Sometimes the thermostats are in need of calibration and may not actually be cooling to the temperatures that you think they are. Some people place an air thermometer within the cabinet to get a read, but the best way to gauge what the temperature of your beer is, is to place a glass of water inside the fridge and then place a liquid thermometer in the water. You can even use your brewing thermometer.

Just make sure that if it’s a metal thermometer that the probe is not touching the glass itself as it could provide an inaccurate reading. This will ensure that your beer is being stored at the right temperature but what about being served at the right temperature.

To take things to the next level, there are high-end kegerators that include built-in tower coolers. These divert air from the forced air-cooling unit within the fridge through a tube and up through the draft tower. This ensures that the draft lines within the tower are properly cooled just as the rest of the main fridge compartment. Having cool draft lines greatly reduces the amount of foam that you will get on the first pour or two. While foam is undesirable because you cannot really drink it (foam is only about 25% beer), more importantly it is a premature release of the beer’s carbon dioxide. The lack of carbonation will have a negative effect on the mouthfeel, flavor, aroma and overall drinking experience of that beer—and you certainly won’t be enjoying it as the brewer intended.

Why You Shouldn’t Over-Chill Your Beer

Now, with all this talk about proper cooling, it’s important to understand that you can also over-chill your beer. When the temperature of beer is reduced below 38°F it will retain a noticeably greater amount of CO2 which will result in more bubbly beer. This bubbliness may not be right for the beer and can create a mouthfeel that is unfit for the style.

Additionally, beer at exceptionally low temperatures will numb your taste buds and prevent you from getting a full flavor experience. Though, as long as you are at or above 38°F, different styles of beer can call for different temperatures.

Different Styles, Different Temperatures

To make it even more complex, not every style of beer should be served at the same temperature. Each unique style has its own recommended serving temp, but for the most part, they all fall in the three ranges below.

Beer Styles
  • Lighter-bodied beers, such as lagers and light ales, should be served within a temperature range of 38° to 42°F. This maintains good carbonation levels which pairs well with the crispness of beers of this type.
  • Slightly heavier beers, such as dark lagers and ales, should typically be served around 42-46°F which allows for the perfect blend of a lighter mouthfeel and the slightly more substantial body of the beer.
  • Heavy beer styles, including stouts, barleywines and strong ales, among others, can even be served at temperatures of 48°F and higher. In fact, you find that a lot of the beers within these styles may even advise serving temperatures of 55°F and above. Serving these at a higher temperature allows the full complexity of the beer to open up without being too carbonated.

Should You Chill Your Glass?

Additionally, it’s important to understand that the temperature of the glass in which you serve the beer can have an effect on the beer. You don’t want to pour beer into a glass that has been sitting in a freezer because that can lead to a higher retention of CO2. It’s best to serve beer in a room temperature glass or one that has been slightly chilled.

Also, once you pour the beer into the glass, the temperature of the beer will rise a few degrees, so keep that in mind. The next time you’re storing, serving or enjoying a beer, be mindful of the environment in which you store it, the way in which you serve it, and that the temperature at which you enjoy it is fit for the style and you should be much happier with your beer-drinking experience.

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Growlers 101: Why Every Beer Geek Should Own One

Over the Memorial day weekend, I was walking into a local pub I like to frequent to get my growler filled. While walking in with this big container, a group of people stopped me to ask what it was and why I had it. I was a little flabbergasted that they didn’t know what a growler was, so I gave them a quick explanation of what it was and why I was bringing it into the bar.

And then it hit me. If this group sitting at a bar doesn’t know what a growler is, then surely there’s a ton of other people out there missing out on the joys of a growler.

While a kegerator is still my preferred method of drinking draft at home, a growler is a great way to take draft beer with you on the go. Or maybe just get to try a beer without committing to an entire keg.

Let’s take a closer look at what growlers are, how to care for them and why every beer geek should own one.

What Is a Beer Growler?

Simply put, a growler is a container or vessel that is used for the transport of beer. It can also be described as an air-tight jug, typically made out of glass, ceramic or stainless steel that allows you to take draft beer from one place to another without a degradation of quality.


A Quick History of Growlers

The origin of the term “growler” is the subject of debate, and likely, the true story will never be known. But as the story goes, in the latter half of the 1800’s, growlers referred to metal pails that were used to transport beer from the local tavern to an individual’s home.

Glass Growler

There are those who believe the term arose from the sound that the pail’s cover made from the escaping carbon dioxide, while others believed the growling came from another source. The latter belief is that either the bartender or the customer would be responsible for the growling, as the bartender was supposed to fill the half-gallon container with only a pint of beer, while the customer wanted to get a pail that had much more than just a pint. Whichever party was left dissatisfied would “growl” about the issue, hence the very apt term.

There was actually a period of time in which the use of growlers was outlawed, mainly stemming from the fact that children were often sent out to pick up a pail full of beer for their father. This chain of custody issue caused alarm in many of the same types of people who worked in support of prohibition, and the alarm led many cities to outlaw the use of these containers altogether. The growler eventually regained popularity, and the present form of container is among the most widely used for transporting craft beer from its source.


Types of Growlers

Like most beer accessories, there are a few types of growlers that you should be aware of. Knowing the differences between these different types will give you a better idea of which one is right for you.

2 Liter Glass Growler

Glass:
This is easily the most popular type of growler you will see people with. You can typically buy them in both clear and amber glass. Although, I would personally recommend NOT buying a growler made out of clear glass, as the beer is likely to go bad if it sits in the sun.

One of the benefits of using a glass growler, is that you can see inside of it which helps during the filling process. The downside of glass growlers is that they will crack, chip and shatter if you handle them carelessly.

Stainless Steel Growler

Stainless Steel:
This type of growler is very popular, as they are easy to carry around and unlikely to break if you drop them. The stainless steel build will help insulate your beer, keeping it cold for you while you’re on the go.

If you are going for a hike or camping with some friends, then a stainless steel growler would be highly recommended. The downside of stainless steel, is that you can’t see inside which may make it somewhat harder to fill.

Ceramic Growler

Ceramic:
This is another popular type of growler, but not my personal favorite. Aesthetically, they look nice, but they can tend to be very heavy to carry around and somewhat difficult to clean. Because you can’t see inside of it, you may have some problems during the filling and cleaning process. Unfortunately, ceramic growlers are still susceptible to chipping or breaking if dropped or handled carelessly.


4 Benefits of Growlers

  1. Easy way to transport draft beer
    Growlers are incredibly easy to take with you. Despite the many sizes and shapes, most growlers will have a handle for you to carry it by. Even when filled with beer, they’re not too heavy. It’s easy to carry and transport multiple ones at the same time. Since they are air-tight, the beer will remain fresh even when transported.

    Instead of trying to offer a description of your new favorite beer, or having to wait until the next time you both can go to the bar or brewery, that beer can be easily transported to your friend’s home so that you all can experience it firsthand.

  2. Bring Home Beer From the Local Brewery
    This one depends on the brewery and laws of your area, but one of the best benefits of owning a growler is that you can bring home beer right from the brewery. There’s nothing quite like that first sip of a beer that you got directly from the source. But keep in mind, not every brewery will fill up a growler for you, and those that do may likely have rules they want you to follow. So make sure you call ahead and verify that they will fill it up.

  3. Share your homebrew
    As homebrewing continues its rise in popularity, those same brewers will want to share their brew with their friends and family. Obviously, bottling your homebrew is a pretty easy method to share the joy. But what if you don’t want to put in the work of bottling, and instead prefer to keg your beer? Since this is my preferred method, I’ve had to cross this bridge before.

    If I want to bring my latest brew to a friend’s house, then I have one of two choices: bottle it or fill up my growler. Because I prefer kegging, filling up one of my growlers is the easiest way for me to transport my brew without completely ruining it.

  4. Tap a New Keg
    For bartenders and party hosts alike, growlers can serve a very practical and important purpose. When the keg begins to get low, the remaining beer can be put in one or more growlers. This enables a new keg to be tapped, while also ensuring that there is beer still available.

    For a bartender, this is especially important, as there will be no gap in service and the keg can be tapped without the stress of waiting customers. For a party host, it may take more time to tap the new keg or there may not be several taps available, so having growlers on hand will ensure that beer is always available to guests.

Top of Growler
Flickr: joyride1x1

The Importance of Keeping Your Growler Clean

This should just be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t clean their growler after using it. If you fill a growler that wasn’t properly cleaned, then you won’t be able to experience the true flavors and aromas that the brewer intended.

In extreme circumstances of uncleanliness, mold and other nasty stuff may start to grow inside your growler. This is a sure bet that what you drink won’t taste right, or even be drinkable at all.

How to keep it clean:
  • Rinse it Quick:
    Directly after you pour the last of your beer, give it a rinse with hot water. If you can rinse it out pretty quickly after it’s finished, then that’s all you really have to do to get it clean and ready for the next fill.
  • Detergents & Cleansers:
    If you let the growler sit for awhile before rinsing it out, then you’ll want to use some sort of cleanser to help get it clean. If you do this, it is wise to not use a fat or oil-based soap. These will make it harder to completely rinse out, possibly leaving residuals behind that will, ultimately, ruin your next fill. If you have any homebrew cleansers sitting around your house, then I would recommend using those.
  • Consider Using a Brush:
    If it’s really nasty inside, then it may be best for you to use a brush to give it a good scrub. A carboy brush or baby-bottle brush will do the trick. However, it is not recommended that you use a brush with metal wires to clean a glass or ceramic growler, as it may damage the container.
  • Let it Air-Dry:
    Now that you’ve cleaned out the inside, it’s best to just let it air dry. I will turn mine upside down and lean it against the wall at an angle to help expedite this process. If you try to dry the inside with a towel, then you will likely leave tiny fibers behind, which will affect the overall quality of your next fill. It would also be a giant pain to try to hand-dry the inside of a growler. So, pack some patience and let it dry on its own.

Depending on where you take it get filled, they should offer to sanitize it for you. If so, take them up on it. Even if you just got done cleaning it out, this extra sanitization will help ensure that you get the best tasting beer. Unfortunately, not all places will offer this to you, so it’s still wise to make sure your growler is clean and ready before you even leave your house. If you do find a place that offers it, then you should continue going back to them, as they clearly know how to handle a growler.


How to Fill Your Growler

Now that your growler is clean, you may be wondering what now? First you’ll need to find a place that fills them. Unfortunately, not every bar that serves draft beer will be willing to fill your growler. A simple internet search should give you a good idea of what establishments around you will fill it for you. I’ve also found that places that have a great selection of craft beer on tap will sometimes fill a growler, even if they don’t advertise it to the general public. Just ask the bartender at your favorite watering hole and see what their policy is. You may be surprised at how many places will do it.

Once you find a place that fills them, just bring in your growler, tell them what you’d like and then closely monitor how they fill it.

Filling Methods

Filling your growler is more than just opening the cap and filling it up from the beer faucet. There’s a couple of ways you may notice your growler being filled.

  • Bottom-Up Filling:
    This is the more traditional method of filling a growler, and what you will see the most. The bartender will attach an extension tube to the faucet. This tube is then inserted into the growler and fills it from the bottom up, much like you would do when bottling your own homebrew. This method will lessen the overall amount of spillage and the filling time. Unfortunately, using a bottom-up filling tube may also increase the amount of oxygen inside your growler, leading it to go stale quicker than it should.
  • Counter Pressure CO2 Filling:
    Another method that may notice, is the use a counter pressure CO2 filler to help lessen the amount of oxygen. This system works by purging the oxygen out of the growler before it is filled. This helps prevent your beer from becoming oxidized, which will give you a little more time to drink it before it becomes stale.
  • Pouring it From the Tap:
    This method of filling up your growler consists of putting the growler up to the beer faucet, and simply pouring the beer into the growler. As you could imagine, this is going to create a bunch of foam head, possibly leading to a lot of wasted beer and a big mess to clean up. Not to mention the degradation of the beer contained within the growler in the end. This is not a recommended method of filling up a growler, and should only be used as a last resort.

Safety Concerns

As fun as growlers can be, there are some safety issues that you need to be aware of. Mainly, an over-filled or over-pressurized growler does pose a risk of exploding in extreme circumstances, including both hot and cold temperatures. If you leave it in a hot car or forget about it in the freezer, then it’s likely that the growler will crack, shatter or explode as a result.

Safety Tips:
  • Keep it at a Desirable Temperature:
    First and foremost, treat your growler like you would treat a bottle or can of beer. Keep it cold in the fridge, and do your best to avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Do Not Overfill:
    You may be tempted to squeeze every single drop into the growler before sealing it. However, it’s recommended that you leave some space at the very top for the foam head. Most growlers will have a fill line etched into the side. If so, then it’s easy to know where to stop filling.
  • Inspect Before You Fill:
    As tedious as it may seem, before you take in your growler to be filled, it would be wise for you to look it over for any possible chips, cracks or dents on the container. Once filled, these may lead to further damage of your growler and/or the degradation of the beer inside.

Local & State Regulations

Depending on where you live, and the local laws of your area, you may have some trouble filling up a growler. Some states allow you to fill a growler directly from the brewery, while others don’t. Some states require your growler to be labeled with identifying information, including brewery name, net contents, production details and a government warning.

Some breweries and retailers are required to “exchange” your empty growler for one of their sanitized, but full, growlers that they cleaned in-house. While inconvenient, it’s considered a safety issue

Every state is different and has different requirements. The Brewers Association is a great resource to find out what the regulations are in your area. So, before you buy a growler, it would be wise to know what they will and won’t do in your area.

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Raising the ABV of Your Homebrew

Alcohol is a byproduct of the fermentation process, which takes place when the yeast converts the sugars derived from the grain. Knowing that, you can increase the alcohol by volume (ABV) by increasing the size of the grain bill or increasing the amount of malt extract used.

Homebrew & ABV

Though, this method can completely change a recipe if all other factors remain the same, so a popular method for increasing the ABV of an existing recipe without bringing much change is to simply add more sugar into the mix.

However, it’s important to understand what type of sugar you should use and the effects that it can have.

What Type of Sugar Should Be Used?

Different types of sugar can be used when the purpose is to introduce different flavors and add complexity to a beer but when the purpose is to increase the alcohol content the most commonly used type of sugar is corn sugar.

This is a simple sugar derived from corn that can be easily consumed by yeast. It is in a ready-to-use form that is 100% fermentable by yeast. Because of this, it is a popular choice amongst homebrewers and can be employed in powder form as well as liquid form, such as corn syrup.
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Drying Made Easy: The FastRack and Carboy Dryer

When it comes to choosing a storage vessel for your homebrew, bottles are probably the most obvious option for homebrewers both new and old. Bottling homebrew is a great choice for those starting out because bottles are easily accessible and can be reused time and time again. They’re also great for their versatility in being able to store smaller individual servings in many settings and for ease of transportation.

Homebrew Bottles

Seasoned homebrewers also like using bottles for bottle conditioning which allows the beer to further mature and develop over time in a safe and secure package that can be easily stored for long periods of time. Regardless of why you may choose to use bottles to store your brew, one thing homebrewers can agree on is that a big disadvantage of bottles is the inconvenience they present when it comes to cleaning and drying them.

While most all-inclusive brewing kits come with a bottle brush and sanitizer to clean bottles they almost never include a tool for drying and storing them. To remedy this, many use dish racks, some even roll up paper towels and insert them into the bottle, and others may simply balance them upside down on a cloth or paper towel. However, these are all bad ideas for one reason or another, with the biggest issue being that some part of the bottle is coming in contact with another surface that is most likely unsanitary.
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The Ins & Outs of a Kegerator

Beer is best when served fresh, cold, and on draft. Half the cost of canned and bottled of beer, kegged beer is a cost-efficient way to enjoy your favorite beverage. A kegerator makes this enjoyment possible, and depending on your beer buying frequency, can paying for itself in just a matter of months. It’s kegonomics, really.

Kegerator Anatomy

Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of this aptly named beer dispenser.

Components & Tools Used in Assembly

If you purchase a complete kegerator, all components and tools necessary for assembly will be provided for you.

However, if you’re building your own custom kegerator, you’ll need to be sure you have the following components and tools:
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How Long Does A Keg Remain Fresh?

Due to a variety of beer styles and storage options for your keg, there’s no set answer to this question. Depending on who you ask or what site you read, the answer will range between 20-120 days.

There are many variables that can play a role in how quickly your kegged beer starts to alter in taste, but a general rule to keep in mind is that as soon as that keg is filled at the brewery, the “freshness clock” starts. As time goes by, your beer will slowly start to taste less and less fresh.

How Are You Dispensing Your Beer?

To give you a better idea of how long your keg will last, let’s take a look at the two most common scenarios that one would find themselves in when they tap a keg.

1. Using a Manual Pump:

Manual Keg Pump

Commonly found attached to the top of kegs at house parties and backyard cookouts, the manual pump — sometimes called a bronco pump or party pump — works by pumping air into the keg, pressurizing it so that it can dispense your beer. If you’ve ever poured a beer out of a keg, then you’re probably familiar with this kind of pump, as well as the problems that come along with it, such as over-pumping and excessively foamy beer.
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The Homebrewer’s Guide to Secondary Fermentation

If you are new to brewing your own beer, it is important that you learn how the process of fermentation works and the steps you should take to make the perfect homebrew. For some beers, you may want to follow a secondary fermentation process. This conditioning process is a little more complicated, but if you understand the phases, you will be a pro-brewer in no time.

Here’s our tips for understanding the process of secondary fermentation, how it works and when you should do it.

Understanding the Phases of Fermentation

In order to make beer, you must allow it to ferment for a short period of time. The first few phases of fermentation occur fairly quickly. In the aerobic phases, or first phase, the yeast cells become accustomed to their environment and begin to multiply. This multiplication happens very quickly, but not a lot of alcohol is produced.

Oxygen is needed during this phase by the yeast for it to work. The first phase lasts a few hours and you will not be able to see what is going on unless you have a microscope. Once this process is complete, it moves into the anaerobic phase, where the yeast will metabolize the sugars into Ethanol and CO2. This reaction causes there to be foam, or krausen, at the top of the beer that is fermenting. This active phase of fermentation will usually last anywhere from a few days to a whole week.

Towards the end of this phase, the foam will subside and the yeast cells will die or go dormant, falling to the bottom of the container. However, not all of the cells will do this. A few of them will ferment slowly for several more weeks in the conditioning phase.
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7 Beer Products You Need for an MVP Football Party

Football Party

There are a lot of details to make sure you get covered before you host a party worthy of Sunday’s Big Game. After all, it’s the end of the season. A party is a must.

Regardless of what your football party strategy is, there is no doubt that beer is going to play a key role in your party’s success. There are a lot of different ways to can manage the flow of beer depending upon what types of beer your guests enjoy.

Take a look at this year’s top seven beer items that will make you and your party the MVP of the season.
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Winter Warmers: A Beer Style Designed to Keep You Warm

Winter warmers are another wildly popular seasonal amongst beer geeks. As the name implies, this seasonal is only brewed in the winter and all have a slightly higher ABV to help “keep you warm” during the holiday season.

What is a Winter Warmer?

Winter Beer

For centuries now, beer with higher-than-usual amounts of alcohol has been brewed in the fall and winter months. Nobody is quite sure when the name “winter warmer” was applied to this style, but the name still rings true as this type of beer will definitely keep you warm on a chilly night.

The most notable feature of a winter warmer is the higher-than-average amount of alcohol that you will find within them. While there are no set guidelines of what ABV this style should have, you will generally find that they have an ABV of 5.25-8.0%. In some cases, you will find that this reaches up to 10%, but that is definitely not the norm for a winter beer.

Other than more alcohol, winter beers typically will have a large malty backbone with very little hoppy bitterness. Whatever hop flavor there is will be balanced, to not take away from the malty sweetness this style is known for. You will also notice that the flavor will be full and bold with a medium to heavy body. The color of a winter warmer will be darker, ranging from dark red to deep black.

Some brewers will toss in a few select spices to give their winter warmer a different kind of bite. While this isn’t necessary for this style, it is quite common nowadays. Winter beers from breweries in the United States are known to have an eclectic palate of spices, whereas those from England and other parts of the world are less likely to have these extra ingredients.
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Top 10 Gifts for the Beer Snob in Your Life

The holiday season is officially here. The Christmas lights are up in my neighborhood, the house smells like a fresh tree and my daughter keeps asking me when Santa is coming over. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s definitely that time of year again.

No matter what you celebrate, it’s quite possible that you’re looking for gift ideas for that special someone in your life. In this case, that special someone is your favorite beer snob. Here’s a list of my favorite beer-related gift ideas that any beer geek is guaranteed to enjoy.

Listed in order of price, starting with the lowest, here are the best ten beer gifts to get for your favorite beer snob.
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