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How to Pasteurize Beer Without Ruining the Taste

People drink craft beer because they want something different from the generic “macro brewery” lager. They want something that’s got more depth, detail, and flavor. They want something delicious, and if you’re a craft brewer, you want your beer to blow away the consumers’ taste buds and make them never want another mass produced light beer again. 

But there are a lot of factors that can make your craft beer taste bad. Things like carbonation changes, oxidation and skunking are a brewers worst nightmare, especially since most happen once it is in distribution and out of your control. One of the most effective steps you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to your precious brew is pasteurization. 

Pasteurization is primarily used to help extend the shelf life of your beer, but for some reason, there is a common misconception that it distorts the taste of your beer. Here’s how to pasteurize your beer, without ruining the taste. 

Why you should pasteurize your craft beer

Pasteurization is a process used to heat beer to a specific temperature, so that it will kill off any microorganisms that are living in the beer. The pasteurization method helps extend the shelf life of your beer and makes it safe for distribution, it can also help with sugary or fruity beers, which can explode after being canned if not pasteurized properly.  

Beer isn’t a living organism itself, but it does contain living organisms, which can affect the beer over time. Without proper storage, over an extended period of time, beer can become infected with spoilage microorganisms. These microorganisms can cause potential health risks and create off-flavors in the beer. There can also be contamination from wild yeast, bacteria or other microorganisms which will cause an unpleasant aroma and taste. 

Other transformations beer can go through after brewing include 

  1. Carbonation changes: Right after the fermentation process, beer contains a high level of carbon dioxide (CO2). Over time, especially if not properly stored, the beer can lose carbonation and have less fizz when consumed. 
  2. Oxidation: Oxygen can permeate a beer container over time and then interact with various compounds in the beer and result in oxidation. This happens more often when the beer is exposed to sunlight. 
  3. Skunking: Skunking happens when ultraviolet (UV) light causes a chemical reaction in the hops. This will result in a skunky aroma and flavor. To help with this, most beers are bottled in brown bottles, which reduce the UV light exposure to the beer compared to clear or green bottles. 

But don’t worry, time isn’t always bad for a beer you brewed! There are some beers, like ones with high alcohol contents, that mature with age. Beers like barleywines, imperial stouts or Belgian strong ales can really benefit from time. 

How to bring out the flavors in your beer

Now that we have covered the potential downfalls of time affecting beer, let’s go over how to brew a beer that can be pasteurized and still have a great aroma and flavor. One of the best ways to pasteurize your beer, without ruining the taste, is to flash pasteurize your beer. Flash pasteurization only requires the beer to be heated for 15-20 seconds, while tunnel pasteurizers can take about 30 minutes to complete the process. Less time at higher temperatures is better for your beer in the long run. The rapid heating and cooling during the flash pasteurization method help reduce the impact on flavor. 

It is very important to use the correct pasteurization unit (PU) when pasteurizing beer, here are a few reasons why 

  1. Safety of the beer: The main purpose of pasteurization is to eliminate or reduce the harmful organisms present in beer. These can include bacteria, yeast and molds. Making sure to use the correct PU ensures that the beer is subjected to sufficient heat treatment to reach the desired level of microbial safety. Using the wrong PU can result in spoilage or health risks for consumers because an inadequate PU may not kill the targeted microorganisms. 
  2. Flavor and aroma preservation: Heat in the pasteurization process can change the flavor and aroma characteristics of a beer, but using the correct PU allows for pasteurization without causing excessive flavor deterioration. Carefully controlling the PU can allow brewers to strike a balance between microbial safety and preserving the flavors, making sure the beer keeps its desired taste profile. 
  3. Efficiency: When brewers use the correct PU, they are able to optimize the pasteurization process, which ensures the desired effect in an efficient manner. To be efficient, you must select the appropriate equipment, set the correct time-temperature parameters and maintain consistency across batches. All of these will help you streamline the process and achieve desired results. 

What you can do to save the flavor of your beer

Proper storage and pasteurization of your beer is also vital to maintaining the amazing flavor. Protecting the beer from factors like heat, light and air can minimize the risk of spoilage or losing flavor. Selecting the correct packaging, like brown bottles, can reduce UV light exposure and prevent skunking. 

If you follow the guidelines throughout this article and pay attention to proper pasteurization methods and storage practices, you can pasteurize your great beer without compromising the taste. Making sure your beer is fresh and enjoyable for as long as possible is the name of our game and we want the beer you’ve worked so hard to perfect to taste great whether it is consumed the day after bottling or months later.

We’ve even written an article on how long craft beer can last. You can read that here.

Cheers to great-tasting pasteurized beer!