Warm Beer Sucks

Unless you live in England, warm beer sucks.

The English apparently claim otherwise, but I claim foul – I blame it on centuries of downtrodden repression.  I was mulling the issue of warm beer over as I sat in a friend’s pool for the better portion of the last week, attempting to thwart this most recent Buffalo heatwave with cold water and even colder beer.  The heatwave has passed, but we all know Buffalo has one more in store for us before the snow hits, and when it does, we must all be prepared.  I can’t help you out with the pool, but I can lend a few tips on keeping your poolside beer of choice both fresh and cold.

Plants love the sunlight, your beer hates it

It’s not 1952 people, have we not figured this out yet?  Keep those growlers and bottles out of the sunlight, especially clear bottles.  Here’s the basic science behind it, if you care to know – I’ll try to keep it light (no pun intended).  Brewers uses hops to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to your beer, unless you are Miller, but that’s a story for a different day.  Hops provide chemicals called isomerized alpha acids to your beer, which are extracted from the whole flower or pelletized hops that look like rabbit food through the boiling process.

The acids in hops are highly light sensitive, and when they react with ultraviolet light (sunlight) the acids do all kinds of fun stuff – chemistry – that creates a compound in your beer that your dog may be very familiar with; it’s the same chemical skunks produce to keep predators at bay, or rather curious and aloof dogs.  The chemical is in the “thiol” family of compounds, and they tend to be rather odorous; think natural gas or garlic, both contain thiols.  To make matters worse, the human palette is extremely sensitive to thiols, and the slightest inkling of these little buggers will turn that delicious IPA into a skunky mess.

Here are a few solutions for you non-creative types:

  • Buy cans.  Clearly cans do not allow sunlight in, do I need to say more?
  • Brown bottles and growlers reduce the amount of sunlight allowed in, but sunlight still gets in if you leave them in the sun.  It’s merely a minor band-aid.
  • Store your beers in a closed cooler, rather than an open bucket of ice at your next cookout or party
  • There are a number of cozies out there that fully enclose and wrap a bottle, and they’re cheap.
  • Drink faster.  Ok, I know this isn’t some big life hack here, but seriously, are you really trying to impress us with your incorrigible patience?  Stop talking so much and drink that damn beer.

Get it cold, fast

Every time I go to the beer store the beers I want, especially at Wegmans – if you’re not from Buffalo, or some other lesser city who has been blessed with the grace of a Wegmans, move and you’ll be in the know – the beer I always want is the beer not in the cooler.  This is a major issue for a guy like me.  I fully intend to drink that beer upon arrival at my destination, but if it’s warm … well, you know, refer to the first paragraph. The whole England stinks thing.

On a really hot day, I usually look for a light beer (not light as in Blue Light, let’s not get ridiculous here, but light as in a witbier, pilsner, or a saison) that is refreshingly cold, and I can drink like water.  Those 90-degree days in Buffalo present a true challenge to anyone trying to keep their beer cold in a cooler, or when it comes home from the store warm.  Applying a little science, we can quickly resolve this issue.

Salt!

By adding some salt to your ice/water mix in your cooler, it will drop the freezing temperature a bit, and in turn will both cool your beer faster, while maintaining that temperature in the cooler longer.  How much the salt decreases the freezing point is dependent upon how much salt is used in the solution, but we can assume that a cup of salt in a standard cooler will drop your freezing point at least 2-3-degrees Celsius.  There is a point of saturation, so don’t assume that if you throw an entire box of salt in your cooler it’s going to turn into the tundra – permanently frozen for all of eternity.

The paper towel trick

If you’re not tossing those warm beers in a cooler, and you’re just lounging around the house enjoying your air conditioning there is another simple trick.  Fold a few paper towels over each other, so they could wrap your beer bottle.  Wet the paper towels, wrap it around your beer, and give it about 15 minutes.  I know, the wait will be killing you, but if you toss it in the freezer you can cut this time in half, but you also risk freezing your beer if you’re a little forgetful like me.  This is usually a good time to make yourself a nice summer cocktail while you wait.

I might be a little biased, having taught science for 10 years, but science can be pretty awesome when applied to useful stuff, like keeping your beer fresh and cold.  Enjoy the summer, beat the heat with science, and remember, soon enough we’ll be able to just toss that 12-pack in a 5-foot snowbank.  I can’t wait.

Cheers.

Shawn Kerr is the head brewer at 12 Gates Brewing and may or may not have invented science.  He also is mildly suspect of all things British, especially marmite.

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