If you’re a beer aficionado, life has never been better. You can walk into just about any bar, restaurant or liquor store in America to find a far wider range of options than you could have just a couple decades ago. Whether you prefer an ice cold Bud or the most obscure local micro brew that no one has ever heard of yet, odds are good that you can get your hands on the perfect brew for your mood.
But what will you do when it’s time to store all those brown bottles and beer cans? If you’re like most people, you probably turn to Google for all your beer storage advice.
And that’s where things can get dicey.
There are a lot of beer storage myths out there, so if you aren’t careful to check your sources — that is, seek out the advice of real brewers instead of a college freshman — you could be getting bad intel.
That’s why we’ve taken the time to do the research for you to do some myth-busting done about beer and how best to keep it fresh and delicious for your next serving. Here’s what you need to know.
Myth #1: All Beer Should Be Stored and Served Ice Cold
Nope. All but the lightest mass-market pale ales (Miller, Coors Lite, and Budweiser) should be served at higher temperatures than you might expect for best flavor. While the big beers are delightful at an icy 35 to 40 degrees,everything else benefits from warmer serving temperatures to bring out their full flavor. That cold deadens your taste buds after a while, so warmer is better to get the whole experience.
In general, your standard kitchen refrigerator is set around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s a little too cold for storing beers like an IPA, Imperial Stout or any other craft beer. You won’t hurt them by keeping them cold, but you’ll have to let them warm up a bit before you actually drink them, which is a pain. Instead, a dedicated beer cooler that can be set at the perfect temperature for serving is more convenient better for the flavor of most brews — especially those with a high alcohol content.
Myth #2: You Have to Store Beer at the Same Temperature It Was at the Store
This isn’t true, either — especially if you’re talking about beer stored at room temperature. Beer is an organic product, so it begins its long, slow decay the minute it’s brewed. Heat causes this process to speed up, which will eventually lead to off flavors and smells. Consider the 3-30-300 Rule: You can keep beer for just three days at 90 degrees (like in your hot car), but it will last for 30 days in 72 degrees and 300 days at 38 degrees.
What does this all mean for you? You should keep your beer cool but not cold to thread the needle between longevity and optimal serving temperatures. The less time your beer spends at room temperature, the better — so get it into a beer cooler or your refrigerator as soon as you get it home.
And if you bought your beer cold? It’s OK to store it warmer. That brings us to …
Myth #3: Letting Beer Warm Up Will Skunk It
Untrue. The real cause of skunky beer is light, not heat. “Light struck” beer is the victim of a chemical reaction that releases some of the sulfur compounds found in bitter hops. This sulfur smell is the same as a skunk’s spray, because skunks have evolved to produce those compounds in their bodies. Because almost every beer out there is brewed with hops, they could go skunky on you if you leave them in the sun.
To improve the shelf life of your beer — and avoid an unpleasant aroma when you want to kick back with your favorite ale — keep it in the dark. This is the only way to stop the skunk.
Myth #4: Beer in Bottles Lasts Longer Than Cans
Though many people prefer the feel of a bottle in their hands and on their lips, it’s actually a less secure way to store your beer for the long haul. An aluminum can doesn’t let any light in to your beer, which you now know is the cause of the dreaded skunked beer. Brown bottles handle the light issue somewhat, but clear bottles won’t help you store your beer long at all, unless you are very diligent about keeping it in the dark.
Likewise, cans provide a more complete seal to keep out the air. A bottle with a cork does a little better than a capped bottle, but both have the tiniest space through which air can seep, while a can is fully sealed until you crack it open. Why does this matter? Oxidation leads to stale beer.Oxidized beer tastes like cardboard or vinyl, unless you happen to have a dark, strong ale that actually tastes better when aged. Barleywines might be your best bet here if you want to experiment with aging beer, but most store-bought beers age poorly.
Myth #5: Beer Can’t Freeze
Please let this myth go before you have to find out the hard way that it isn’t true. Beer definitely can freeze, though not as quickly as plain water. Though how fast your beer will freeze depends on its alcohol content, almost all will freeze solid below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is all to say that the storage temperature of your beer shouldn’t be allowed to drop too close to freezing, or you could be dealing with exploded cans and bottles. Don’t keep your beer in the freezer for a fast chill, or you run the risk of forgetting about it and losing it all. Likewise, people in very cold climates should make sure their storage area stays above freezing.
Myth #6: Beer Should Be Stored on Its Side Like Wine
No, but it won’t always hurt your beer to do it. The brewing process allows yeast to eat up sugar and create alcohol, but homebrews and some craft brews may still have plenty of yeast in them once you get the bottle. The sediment from these once-living organisms should settle to the bottom of the bottle so you don’t drink it. This sediment can also alter the flavor of your beer, so you want to keep it from touching as much of the beer as possible.
Unfortunately, storing beer on its side can lead to a “yeast ring” — a line of sediment that sticks to the bottle and makes your beer at best unattractive and at worst terrible tasting. Keep your beer upright to keep yeast in its place.
Myth #7: Corked Beers Should Be Stored Like Wine
Definitely not. A beer bottle with a hinge and a cork is trendy right now, and it may seal out air better than a standard bottle cap, but they should also be stored upright. In addition to the yeast issue discussed above, placing a corked beer on its side also brings the beer in contact with the cork itself. That can lead to off flavors as the beer soaks up the taste of the cork.
It’s also worth noting that storing beer on its side allows much more of the beer’s surface area to come in contact with the air. When you keep beer upright, there’s only a tiny circle of beer at the thin bottle neck that runs the risk of oxidation, while a beer on its side subjects half the bottle to the same danger. The bottom line? Keep your beers standing up for best long-term storage results.
Myth #8: Properly Stored Beer Doesn’t Go Bad
Unfortunately, even perfectly stored beer won’t last forever. It’s food, after all, so it will eventually spoil. Most beers will last about six to eight months when kept in a cool, dark environment, though micro brews and home brews often have a shorter shelf life when it comes to optimal flavor.
The best you can do is to keep your favorite beers under the best conditions you can to help it last as long as possible. To do this, make sure that you:
- Keep Beer Cool. The highest appropriate storage temperature is about 55 degrees, of the temperature of a classic wine or beer cellar underground. You can store your beer as cold as about 30 degrees to prolong its life, though this isn’t optimal for drinking.
- Keep Beer Dark. Prevent skunking by making sure the sunlight can’t reach your beer. This means protecting it on the trip from the store to your home and making sure it doesn’t sit out longer than necessary at a picnic or other event.
- Keep Beer Upright. When bottles are on their sides, they expose much more of the beer to the air, which can hasten decay. Upright beer also prevent and sediment from ruining the flavor.
When you know the right advice for storing your beer, you can ignore the myths and focus on what’s really important: keeping your beer fresh and at the perfect temperature for enjoying any time you like.