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Beer vs Cider: Is there a difference in how you pasteurize?

Behind every great beer or cider, there is a crucial step that ensures safety and quality: pasteurization. But the process for both is a little different. 

In this blog, we’re going to overview pasteurization for beer and cider and unpack why it’s so important in today’s brewing landscape. While brewers might be somewhat familiar with the pasteurization process for beer, cider presents its own unique set of challenges and considerations, so we’ll be sharing tips that brewers can use to master this essential process. 

What is Pasteurization?

Pasteurization, a technique pioneered by Louis Pasteur, is crucial for keeping certain beverages safe for consumption. The simplest definition is that the process of pasteurization involves quickly heating and cooling beverages to kill potentially harmful microorganisms that might be in them. 

This may sound similar to sterilization, which kills all bacteria. However, the two are different. Pasteurization aims to stop spoilage while keeping the flavor intact. It can happen before or after packaging, depending on the drink and what the brewer wants. This flexibility lets brewers adjust their process to make sure their beer or cider stays safe and tasty.

Pasteurizing Beer

Quality control, consistency, shelf stability, and potential market expansion are driving forces behind beer pasteurization. Flash pasteurization, a modern technique, minimizes the impact on taste and aroma. This process involves high-temperature short-time (HTST) treatment followed by rapid cooling, ensuring optimal preservation of a beer’s flavor profile.

When beer is pasteurized, the heating and cooling for the process is done within the pasteurizer’s heat exchanger.  There are three sections in most HTST pasteurizers:

Regeneration Section

First, beer will enter the raw side of the regeneration section — which is where most of the heat transfer will take place. On one side of the plate is the incoming raw beer.  On the other side of the plate, flowing in the opposite direction is the pasteurized beer.  The incoming beer is being pre-heated by the exiting pasteurized beer, which is in turn being cooled by the incoming raw beer This heat exchange recovers 90% or more of the energy. This process reduces utility costs for both heating and cooling. 

Heating Section

After the first phase of the process, the beer progresses into the heating stage. By this point, the product has been elevated to within 15-20°F of the desired pasteurization temperature in the Regeneration Section. Within the system, steam is employed to heat water, which is then pumped through the heat exchanger situated opposite the product, facilitating the heating process.

Hold Loop

Once the desired pasteurization temperature is reached, beer travels through the Hold Loop, where it remains at the pasteurization temperature for the specified time. It is normally between 15 and 30 seconds. Once that is complete, the beer passes through a pasteurized side of the regeneration section, so that incoming beer can cool it down. 

Cooling Section

Finally, the beer that was sent back to the regeneration section of the pasteurizer is sent to the cooling section to be cooled to the final desired temperature.  Entering the cooling section, the beer has already been cooled to within 10-15 F of the final temperature by the Regeneration Section.   Many brewers will use glycol or another cooling medium during this phase of the process. 

To safeguard against contamination post-pasteurization, breweries employ hygienic filling technology, ensuring beverages are bottled or canned within a sterile environment. The meticulous execution of flash pasteurization demands rigorous quality control measures, as any deviation from the prescribed process can compromise the quality and safety of the beverage.

Pasteurizing Cider

Cider presents unique challenges for brewers due to its lower ethanol content compared to wine or beer. Microbial spoilage in cider can result in off-flavors, cloudiness, and health risks for consumers. Additionally, the risk of refermentation poses dangers such as bottle explosions if residual sugars aren’t managed properly. Pasteurization emerges as a solution to these challenges, safeguarding brand reputation by ensuring consistent quality and safety.

The process of creating a cider involves several key steps, starting with having high-quality juice. 

Boost the alcohol content

To achieve the desired balance of sweetness and alcohol content, brewers opt for various sweeteners such as traditional cane sugar, honey, or flavored syrups. Choosing the right sweetener is pivotal in shaping the final flavor profile of the cider.

Picking the Right Yeast for Fermentation

The selection of the appropriate yeast strain plays a critical role in the fermentation process and ultimately influences the flavor profile of the cider. Whether it’s a classic wine yeast or a champagne yeast, each imparts its distinct character to the final product.

Letting It Age

Sealing the cider in a fermenting vessel marks the beginning of the aging process, where flavors meld and evolve over time. This stage requires patience as the cider gradually matures, developing the desired level of dryness and flavor complexity.

Crucial Step: Pasteurization

Whether opting for a carbonated or still cider, the bottling or canning stage is where pasteurization takes center stage. Brewers have the option to introduce priming agents for a sparkling finish or sulfites for a non-carbonated alternative. However, regardless of the chosen method, pasteurization stands as the key step in ensuring the elimination of wild yeasts or harmful bacteria, thus safeguarding the quality and safety of the final product.

The Final Takeaway

Pasteurization is crucial for brewers who want to make sure their drinks are safe and top-notch. Whether they’re making beer or cider, it’s essential to prioritize pasteurization to keep customers happy and protect their brand.

Brewers need to know the ins and outs of pasteurization techniques and use the right equipment. By mastering this process, they can guarantee that every sip of their brew is consistently great, building a strong reputation among both industry peers and customers who appreciate quality. To explore how pasteurizers can benefit your brewery and enhance your beer or cider’s quality, visit Shelf Life Systems