On the first morning of beer school many years ago, the instructor boldly stated, “Nothing good happens to beer once it is put into a bottle, can or keg.” Freshness fades and beer quickly deteriorates once it is put into any kind of container. And while pasteurization might slow the process, the original taste is changed and the deterioration process from aging continues unabated until beer has lost its freshness, its flavor and its taste.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the country’s largest domestic brewers spent millions of dollars studying the effects of aging on beer freshness. They concluded that after heat, light, oxygen and dirt, beer’s greatest enemy is time. Preservatives are one way to prolong the shelf life of beer, however, during the past thirty or so years, the use of preservatives has become unacceptable and most, if not all, brewers have discontinued using chemical preservatives. The brewers’ collective answer to prolonged shelf life was to store beer at lower than ambient temperatures, i.e. the temperature surrounding beer.
Each brewer followed its own approach to address the aging problem only to arrive at a similar but temporary solution. At Anheuser-Busch, brewing chemists experimented with the effect of lower temperatures on beer aging. They concluded temperature played a very important role in the aging process, and was the one element that could be controlled throughout the manufacturing/distribution process. As a result, Anheuser-Busch wholesalers were mandated to either build expensive climatized/refrigerated warehouses or to retrofit existing facilities. Each wholesaler plan had to be approved by AB prior to construction. The Coors Brewery approach not only involved a similar warehouse solution, but took the extra step to require its beer be shipped in refrigerated trucks from its brewery in Golden, Colorado. It also required its wholesalers to deliver Coors products in insulated and refrigerated trucks. Miller imposed its own policy on air conditioned warehouses with temperature set points that vary throughout the year. Currently, Sam Adams and Pilsner Urquell amongst other brewers have adopted their own cold storage policies. Without a doubt these approaches have helped slow the aging process, but the overall effect is muted as a large percentage of beer is delivered and stored at retail locations in warm, unfriendly conditions.