Thanks to my Beer52 beer subscription, my fondness for online shopping, and my local pub needing to sell their stock due to the lockdown, I currently have quite a lot of beer. Because of this, I am very aware that my beer needs to be kept in top condition. So I have taken it upon myself to learn everything there is to know about how to store beer. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Beer should be kept out of direct sunlight, particularly clear glass bottles. Where possible, beer should be stored upright. A cool, dark spot in your house is ideal. You can keep beer in the refrigerator, but not all beers benefit from this. If you want your beer served cold, then it needs to be in the fridge for at least an hour beforehand.
Of course, there is a lot more to it than that. In this article, I am going to go into detail on exactly how to store beer. Looking at the different types of beer, and how they should be stored.
While many styles of beer can benefit from refrigeration, this is not universally the case. Stouts, porters, Belgian Ales, and English Ales should not be served cold. Well, that’s not quite true. They can be mildly cool, if the temperature of the room is very hot then a quick stint in a fridge may help to prevent them from getting warm.
There is a misconception that English beer is served warm. It is not, it is served at slightly below room temperature. It just so happens that room temperature in England is often cold! Very few beers need to be refrigerated, though lagers, pilsners, and many IPAs do benefit from being served cold.
Often, it is beers that have the least taste that benefit the most from being served very cold. Light beers, zero carb beers, and mass-produced lagers all benefit from being ice cold. Other than that? It’s really down to personal preference. I’ve always liked my beer to be cold, but keep my Belgian beers away from the fridge as I know that refrigeration can deaden the taste.
This really comes down to your personal preference. If you like your beer cold then, by all means, refrigerate it. Many beers benefit from being served cold. However, refrigerated beer does have its drawbacks. If you’ve got a very flavourful craft IPA, then sticking it in the fridge for too long can actually reduce the flavour. If you find the beer too bitter, then sticking it in the fridge can certainly help.
When you are storing beer, it is much more important that the beer is kept out of direct sunlight. The temperature that you store it is much less important. This is because it takes a high heat to actually affect the taste of beer. So unless your beer is being stored beside a radiator, it should be fine to be kept at room temperature.
If you’ve got the fridge space and like your beer cold, then you can store your beer in the fridge for as long as you want. The only caveat to that would be if the beer had to be on its side to fit into the fridge (but more on that in a bit).
Again, a lot of this comes down to personal preference. There are some beers that benefit from being served cold, while there are some beers that are arguably worse off. Belgian Abbey Ales or Trappist Ales such as Orval, Affligem, Westmalle, and Leffe should be served at around 10-14°C.
I’ve divided beers into three groups, there are those that can be served between 8°C and 9°C (very cold), then there are beers that are served at 9-10°C (cold). Finally, there are beers that are best served at around room temperature 10-14°C.
As you can see, several of the beers can comfortably fit into more than one group. There are very few beers that only suit one temperature. Please also note that the temperatures will vary for different beers of a similar style. So a pint of Guinness may be better at a certain temperature than a pint of Mackeson’s stout.
Yes, beer can absolutely be too cold. If your fridge temperature is close to freezing, then the beer can begin to ice over. This will damage the essential oils from the hops and damage the flavour. Serving a hoppy IPA at too cold a temperature turns it into a bland lager. It is the equivalent of watering down your beer. This is why frosted glasses are usually a bad idea (the exception would be sitting at a Greek taverna at midday in partial shade).
The sun is shining, you’ve come in from a long hard day at work. All you want is a nice cold lager. But when you open the fridge you are confronted with shelf after shelf of empty racks. You’ve forgotten to restock your refrigerator! Sure, you’ve got some nice lagers in storage but they won’t be cold for at least an hour. What do you do?
Luckily, there is the freezer trick. All you need is some kitchen towel, or (in a pinch) a teatowel. What you want to do is turn on the cold tap, wrap your beer in a kitchen towel, and pour the cold water over the bottle. The wet kitchen towel will stick to the bottle. Next, you want to place your kitchen towel-wrapped beer into the freezer and leave it there for around 5-7 minutes. Set an alarm so you don’t overdo it.
Once your alarm goes off, your beer will be ice-cold. This works twice as fast as just putting your beer in a freezer. The wet towel works because the water in the towel evaporates and cools the surface area of the bottle quicker (at least, that’s what this article by Business Insider says).
If you are going to try the freezer trick, then definitely don’t forget your beer because it certainly can explode when left in the freezer. The reason for this is that beer is made up mostly of water (95% usually). Freeze water and it will expand in size. Do that inside a fragile glass bottle and it will explode. But the moment your beer has actually frozen it is completely useless to you anyway, so don’t let that happen.
Firstly, if you’re talking about whether your beer should be upright or sideways then remember that time is a factor. If it’s just being stored in the fridge till tomorrow then it really won’t matter. None of the potential drawbacks of storing a beer sideways will have much of an effect.
There are two reasons why people recommend that beer is stored upright. The first reason is that if you place a bottle on its side, the yeast will stick to the side of the bottle. So when you come to pour it, the yeast will land in your drink. Now, only certain beers are going to deal with this issue. Belgian beers, English ales, unpasteurised beers, and wheat beers should probably be stored upright for this reason. Though as we found with Affligem, sometimes the yeast can be desired.
The other reason is that storing the beer on its side is supposed to cause oxidization of the beer. I am not a chemist, but this seems to be unlikely to cause much difference. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s really all about time.
Many beers will be completely unaffected by being stored on their side. Pasteurised lagers will be unaffected, stouts and porters will, for the most part, be unaffected. Most pale ales will barely register a difference. But Belgian ales, English ales, IPAs, Wheat beers, and Lambics should be stored upright if possible.
This is an interesting one because corked beers can be similar to wine when it comes to storage. Wine is supposed to be stored on its side because this keeps the cork wet. A wet cork is ideal as the humidity will keep a better seal and prolong the life of the wine. It can be the same thing with corked beer. Breweries such as Cantillon, who specialise in corked beer actually serve their beers in baskets. The idea is that the sediment that has stuck to the side (see above) can be avoided if the beer is served at the angle created by the basket.
However, most of the corks used these days are modern. Which means that they are perfectly capable of retaining a tight seal even when not in contact with liquid. So, the advice is to keep your corked beers stored upright.
I have covered this topic in detail in my article on the effect of sunlight on beer. But briefly, yes! Sunlight has a huge impact on beer. Direct sunlight can ruin beer, mainly by influencing the essential oils released by the hops. Some beers are a lot more likely to be affected than others. IPAs, NEIPAs, pale ales, and pilsners are, particularly at risk. This is partly because they rely on hops for flavour, and partly because the paleness of the beer is much more likely to be affected by sunlight.
That is one of the reasons why cans are better than bottles for storing beer. In terms of protection against the sun, it goes: Cans, dark brown bottles, green bottles, clear glass bottles.
The first thing that you should consider is natural sunlight, the enemy of beer! Find a spot that is away from direct sunlight, and if possible in a cool, dark area. The temperature doesn’t matter too much. Obviously, if your beer is stored next to a furnace or a radiator then it is going to be ruined. But room temperature should be fine for most beers.
If possible, you want your beers to be upright. This will reduce the risk of the beer being oxidized, it will also keep any yeast or sediment at the bottom of the glass (exactly where you want it). But, as with temperature, it shouldn’t make too much difference.
Fresh beer, for example, a beer that has been poured for you from a local brewery, should be stored in the fridge and consumed quickly. It will lose its flavour and carbonation pretty fast. Also, beers that rely on strong hop flavours (i.e. IPAs) would also benefit from being stored in a refrigerator as the cold temperature will preserve the flavours for longer.
There are many factors that affect how long a beer will last, different styles of beers can last for different times. Ales, stouts, porters, and Belgian Abbey Ales can often be stored for years at a time. While some pale ales and IPAs can have a much shorter shelf life. The beer doesn’t become undrinkable, it can just lose some of its flavour and carbonation. Beers may also become slightly less strong over time.
In general, the darker and stronger the beer, the longer it will last. There are many exceptions to this. For this reason, it is a good idea to search for the best before date. Or go online for the specific beer you are about to store.
Remember, the longer you store a beer. The more important it is that you are storing it in ideal conditions. If you’re storing a beer for a week, then it doesn’t make too much difference if it is upright or on its side. Nor does it matter what the ambient temperature of the room is (though you should still ensure it is out of direct sunlight). But over the course of a year? Or 10 years? Small issues can become much more important.
In 2016, my Mrs came back from shopping with a bottle of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. It came in a nice presentation box, and cost about £6 (I think, can’t remember to be honest). Instead of drinking it right away, I decided to hold onto it. The bottle had a best before date of 2026 which really intrigued me. Apparently, the Fuller’s Vintage Ale range of beers are designed to improve over time in the bottle.
This isn’t particularly rare, but the idea of storing a bottle of beer for several years is pretty cool. I just checked online, and that £6 bottle of beer is now worth £30 (or that is what it is being sold for on the Fuller’s website). A five-time increase in price over four years is pretty bloody impressive! Each year, the price increases further. A 2013 bottle of vintage ale is now being sold for £100!
Before you get excited and rush to the Fuller’s website, I should point out a few things. Firstly, just because Fuller’s are selling their beers for this price, it does not mean that people are buying them. There isn’t a market for vintage ales in the same way that there is a market for vintage wine. Secondly, while the beer does last a long time, it doesn’t last 30+ years as wine would. That £100 bottle of beer only has three more years before it goes out of date and becomes worthless.
I’m not selling mine in any case, I’m drinking it. In 2016 when Lucy (my partner) gave me the bottle I decided to save it until my wedding day. Which is (theoretically) August 15th 2020. Storing the beer has been pretty easy, it comes in a fancy box which helps to keep sunlight at bay. Due to the long storage, I’ve ensured that it is stored upright, and as it is kept with my other beers it is in a cool, dark spot in my house.