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Pasteurization – is it good?

Beer_August12_AOver the past few weeks we have been covering how to store beer and how to tell if your beer has gone bad. We found that beer doesn’t really go bad in the sense that you will get super sick if you drink beer past its due date, but it likely just won’t taste as good. In order to maintain the taste of beer, you need to store it at a proper temperature and standing up. One concept mentioned a few times was the idea of pasteurized or unpasteurized beer.

This week’s article will take a look at the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized beer, hopefully shedding a little more light on the world of beer.

What exactly is pasteurization?
There’s a good chance you have heard this term before, and may even know that the process was perfected by Louis Pasteur in the 1860s. But, did you know that there are records of the Chinese have been using a similar process since at least the early 1100s.

Fun Fact: A common misconception about Louis Pasteur is that he developed the modern method to help improve the shelf life of milk. In fact, he was looking into preventing wine and beer from souring.

The basic idea of pasteurization is to prevent or delay the growth of microbes in food, usually liquids. This is done by heating the liquid to a certain temperature for a specific amount of time, and then immediately cooling it down. What this does is extend the shelf life of the product. What it does not do is make it sterile. With pasteurization, food will still spoil; it just takes longer.

Pasteurization of beer
Beer from larger brewers usually tends to be pasteurized, this isn’t always the case, but it fits the vast majority of macro beers. Most brewers pasteurize beer after it has been bottled or canned. The bottle or can is run under a hot water spray for two to three minutes. The water is usually around 60 Celsius, and is hot enough to kill most microbes.

Normally when beer is pasteurized, the shelf life will be extended by up to 120 days, but this will vary depending on the beer and pasteurization method used at the brewery. Also, pasteurization may be done for other reasons than just extending the shelf life. The other most common reason is to halt or prevent a secondary fermentation in the package. This is normally the reason beer in kegs is pasteurized.

In some beer markets like the US, beer put into kegs usually isn’t pasteurized, so they must be kept cool in order to remain fresh. Beer that is pasteurized however can be stored closer to room temperature. From what we can tell, it really depends on the brewer as to whether they will pasteurize beer in the keg. Beers produced by Miller and Coors, when put into kegs, are pasteurized. Beers like Singha and those from InBev, when put into the keg, aren’t pasteurized. We are unsure as to whether Chang is pasteurized when it is put into kegs, but it is likely that it isn’t.

Pasteurized Vs. unpasteurized
This is a debate that rages unsolved, much like Coke vs. Pepsi. Yes, pasteurized beer will increase the shelf life or halt an unwanted secondary fermentation, but some argue that it will harm or alter the taste of the beer.

It really comes down to personal taste. If you like the taste of beer that has been pasteurized then go for it. Granted it will taste slightly different from unpasteurized beer, but usually not different enough so as to be noticeable by most drinkers. So long as you store your beer correctly, there really should be no difference.

How to tell if my beer is pasteurized or not
You may be wondering now if the beer you have is pasteurized or not. The first step to finding out is to look at the label on the can or bottle. Check to see if it says pasteurized or not, and look for other words like: Bottle Conditioned or Live Yeast. All bottle conditioned beers contain yeast that is still alive and actually causing the beer to go through a second fermentation in the bottle. Therefore they are not pasteurized as the process would kill the yeast.

If you are still unsure, do a quick search on the Internet. Check out the brewery’s website – they usually have information on the brewing and storage process and will tell if their beer has been pasteurized.

As a rule of thumb:

  • Belgian beers are not usually pasteurized.
  • Most American craft beers aren’t pasteurized. However, American macro beers like Budweiser are pasteurized if they are in the can or bottle.
  • Beer from smaller breweries will generally be unpasteurized.
  • If beer is labeled with Draft/Draught it is usually unpasteurized.

What are your thoughts on pasteurization? Let us know!

Wish of the week
Paulaner Original Munchner Hell
Despite the name, this beer doesn’t come from hell. It comes from Munich, one of the greatest cities on earth – for beer. If you are looking for something that will really make you shout “Prost” with gusto, this is the beer for you. This golden beauty tastes like nature’s finest have gone into this brew, producing something that is excellently balanced yet light and refreshing. It really is what Lager should be.

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