By Gary Glancy
During my many years as a craft-beer enthusiast, and more recently as a proud member of the industry, one of the most prevalent myths I’ve heard continually perpetuated is the old cold-warm-cold wives’ tale.
Back in May, we discussed the importance of keeping beer cold once it is packaged and leaves the brewery. Yet countless consumers refuse to purchase beer cold unless they’re able to keep it continuously refrigerated until it’s time to be opened. They mistakenly believe that going from cold to warm and then back to cold will damage the beer. The point is underscored around here because of the incredible amount of beer tourism we have in Western North Carolina.
“I’ve heard countless times from people visiting Asheville that they won’t purchase cold beer because they worry about it warming up during their trip home,” says brewer Katie Smith of Highland Brewing, Asheville’s longest-running brewery at 33 years and counting. “Over time, beer can be ruined if it is exposed to oxygen or light, but very rarely can off-flavors develop from fluctuating temperatures.”
As mentioned here two months ago, what’s most important is the cumulative time that a beer is stored cold. In other words, a beer that spent a month refrigerated, followed by a week in a hotel room and then two days back in the fridge, will still be fresher than one that spent that entire time at a consistent room temperature.
The bottom line is that, while beer will be fine during a multi-state car ride or a few days in a hotel room (provided it’s not left baking in the hot sun), never intentionally choose warm beer over cold for fear of ensuing temperature fluctuations.
“No beer should be stored above 55 degrees,” says Jo Doyle, a certified beer expert who works in multiple capacities at White Labs, a San Diego-based yeast manufacturer that recently opened an expansion facility in Asheville.
While Doyle stresses that “99.9 percent of beer should be kept cold and consumed fresh,” there are exceptions, as certain beers can actually benefit from cellaring at temperatures in the 50- to 55-degree range.
Wild beers, for instance, are made with a wild yeast called brettanomyces (or ‘Brett’ for short) that works best away from cold temperatures as it consumes traditionally non-fermentable sugars in the bottle, leading to further complexities in this unique type of beer as it ages for several months or even a few years.
In much the same way, bottle-conditioned beers also develop over time outside the fridge in a cool cellar. With these brews, a dash of brewer’s yeast is added to the bottle along with a small amount of fermentable sugars, which the yeast will consume in the bottle in a sort of secondary fermentation.
With these types of beers, usually in the Belgian style and packaged in fancy cork-and-cage 750 ml. bottles, it’s okay to choose the ones outside the cooler.
But for almost all other types, if you’re traveling, don’t fear the cold!
Gary Glancy is a freelance writer, tour guide, bartender and Certified Cicerone® living in Hendersonville.