Myths About Beer
by Anthony D. Bennett
Most of us have heard a good number of beer "facts" that in reality are not as true as we
believe. To clear up the confusion here's a look at some most common beer beliefs, many of
which are spun from myth and legend and ten that actually have a bit of truth.
1. If Cold Beer Gets Warm, Cooling It Again Will Make It Stale
Wrong! Like Valentine’s Day, this is a myth brought on by some wily marketing gurus, most
likely that brand that won’t stop talking about how “cold” their beer is. The fact is, beer
experiences substantial fluctuations in temperature during shipping. Of course, you don’t want
these changes to be drastic, and excessive heat will certainly ruin your beer. But the notion
that it can only be refrigerated once is a total myth.
2. The Color of the Bottle Affects Beer’s Shelf Life
Yes and no. It’s not the color of the bottle so much as its translucence that affects beer’s long-
term quality. Clear and green bottles allow in significantly more UV light than brown ones. This
leads to skunking. So if you were to store green or clear bottles in complete darkness, then
there would be no discernible difference in shelf life from that of a brown bottle in similar
conditions. So buy your beer in brown bottles or those packaged in full boxes. Even better go
with a can - the beer inside never sees the light of day.
3. Beer Must Be Shipped, Stored, and Aged Cold
So, so wrong. In fact, certain kinds of beer—mainly unpasteurized, bottle-conditioned craft
beer—can be aged in cellars, just like wine! While cooler temperatures are ideal, most experts
agree that anywhere in the 40-70 degree range is fine for dry storage—again, as long as you
keep out the sunlight. Prolonged storage in artificial cooling chambers will dry out the cork,
allow small amounts of air to enter, and eventually spoil the beer. Best to age these beers in a
cellar with moderate humidity, which describes pretty much every cellar ever.
4. Putting Beer in the Freezer Is an Easy Way to “Quick Chill” It
This is true, but with a caveat: Do not ever freeze beer. Anyone who’s ever put a brew in the
freezer to chill it but then forgot it was in there knows how disastrous this scenario can be. 70-
proof liquor (or higher) is fine, but beer will explode when frozen.
That said, placing a beer in the freezer for a few minutes should be fine. Even then you should
be careful, as you may still alter the taste of the beer On a related note, the Eisbock style of
beer (like the infamous Naty Ice) uses intentional freezing in the production process. Brewers
chill the beer to the point where it partially freezes. They then remove the slushy parts, so as to
create a more concentrated and alcoholic beverage (water freezes at a higher temperature
than ethyl alcohol). However, this process usually reduces the hop and malt presence in favor
of the alcohol itself.
5. Beer Should Be Stored Upright.
True. There are a few reasons why beer should not be placed on its side, and this applies to
both corked and capped bottles, and especially to bottle-conditioned brews. First, the yeast—
that magical little organism that eats sugar and poops out alcohol and carbon dioxide (the
process of fermentation). Yeast is critical to beer, but the sediment it leaves behind has a way
of corrupting flavor; you want the yeast sediment (dead cells and chemical byproducts) to
settle at the bottom of the beer.
Prolonged storage on the side will create a “yeast ring” along the walls of the bottle. This is why
there’s an art to pouring beer, and why you’re supposed to decant the liquid and “filter” out the
gunk at the bottom.
Second, upright storage limits the amount of beer that’s directly exposed to air (the neck of a
bottle is narrower than the barrel). This slows the process of oxidation and prolongs the life of
Finally, upright storage is especially important for corked beers. When a beer is stored on its
side, the cork—by virtue of being in contact with the beer—will gradually impart its own cork
flavors on the beer, and some corks contain chemicals and other ingredients that
will exacerbate this “corruption” of the beer.
7. Bottles Are Better Than Cans.
Wrong! Well, actually, this all comes down to personal taste. Canned beer has gotten a bad
rap in recent decades because it’s often associated with mass-market, “cheap” beer. However,
craft brewers are beginning to can their beer—212 breweries, according to CraftCans.com,
including notable names like Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery. Yyou can’t deny that
canned beer is much easier to store and transport—not to mention, you don’t need a bottle
8. More hops means more bitterness.
Yes … and no, not necessarily. Although the bitterness of beer is largely determined by the
alpha acid content of hops that are used in the boil, the sheer quantity of hops used in a recipe
doesn’t necessarily tell you how bitter something is, and nor does its IBU (international bittering
unit) number. Bitterness as a sensation is all relative, and the amount of residual sweetness in
a beer makes a huge difference in how bitter we perceive it to be. 30 IBU in a light lager may
very well seem “as bitter” as 60 IBU in an IPA.
9. Most pumpkin ales involve pumpkin at some point in the brewing process.
You’d think so, given the name, but most commercial pumpkin beers contain no real pumpkin,
squash or other vegetable. The reason is fairly simple—actual pumpkin just doesn’t taste like
much, and using it imparts very little definable “pumpkin” quality to the beer in most cases. The
tastes that most Americans define as “pumpkin” are the plethora of spices found in most
pumpkin-flavored things, from cinnamon and nutmeg to clove and allspice. Most “pumpkin ales”
are essentially malty, American amber ales that are liberally dosed with one of those pumpkin
pie-style spice blends. Even some of the breweries that DO use real pumpkin use a very small
amount of it (say, a single can in a 30-barrel batch), making the pumpkin more of a gimmick
than an active ingredient.
10. Old IPA is undrinkable
Some styles, such as those that are hop-forward, are really meant to be consumed fresh, but
once again this is an adage in craft beer that often gets taken a bit too far. Although volatile
aroma compounds will indeed degrade over time in hoppy beers, it’s not as if they flip from
tasting great to terrible overnight. If you happen to find a year-old IPA in the back of your
fridge, there’s no reason not to drink that thing. Will it be at the peak of freshness? Certainly
not. But it’s not going to be undrinkable or get you sick either.
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Beer Myths Exposed At Last
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