Welcome back! The last couple blogs, we delved into the differences between home-brewing and commercial craft brewing. Since some beers aren’t consumed for months, it’s imperative you have a plan to maintain quality and freshness – and, at the Church Street Brewing Company, we do!
As we all know, if you leave some food out, it’ll eventually spoil – unless, of course, you use artificial preservatives. Relax, we don’t use artificial preservatives. Luckily, beer has one advantage that other alcoholic beverages do not: Hops! That’s right! Much like honey, hops are a natural preservative that help stabilize the beer. Back in colonial times, the British threw large quantities of hops in their beer so it would survive the long trip by boat to India, which is how the India Pale Ale (IPA) was born! While it’s nothing revolutionary to put hops in beer these days, it is an important part of preserving a beer long-term.
It’s also important to realize that all our beers at the Church Street Brewing Company are NOT pasteurized. Pasteurization is usually reserved for macro-breweries and much larger commercial craft breweries. There’s debate on how pasteurization affects beer flavor, but that’s for another time. Since we don’t pasteurize, we stamp the date bottled onto every beer that leaves our brewery because we think it’s important for you – the consumer – to know so you can make an informed beer purchase.
As you might expect, it’s critical to maintain a sanitized environment – which we covered in our last blog (i.e. we spend a majority of our time sanitizing the brewery, hoses, lines, fermenters using peracetic/peroxyacetic acid and other products). During the bottling process, we also take sanitization very seriously, which can affect quality and shelf life. Microbes and catalysts such as light, oxygen, heat or cold can affect the beer in an adverse manner. We clean our bottling machine with caustic cleaner before and after it’s used and pack the machine in sanitizing acid before it’s purged out with beer when the bottling process begins.
We receive our new bottles clean from its supplier, but we have a station that further sanitizes the bottles using ozonated water. Then, the bottles are immediately filled with beer, given a shot of CO2 just before capping in order to ‘cap the bottle on foam’. Foaming the beer purges out excess oxygen, which is one of the biggest spoilers of beer. That outside oxygen can also carry airborne contaminants as well, which makes ‘foam capping’ an important aspect of properly bottling beer. We also make a concerted effort to maintain a certain level of carbonation before bottling – and maintain such levels during the bottling process. This keeps the carbonation of the beer consistent, as well as allowing for capping on foam to take place.
Another catalyst for beer spoilage is ultraviolet (UV) light. Hence, the reason why we use dark colored bottles and pack them immediately in cartons to shield the beer from unwanted UV light. UV light reacts negatively with most hop molecules, which can lead to skunky off-flavors in beer. This is why most breweries use dark brown bottles as opposed to clear or green bottles. Cans have a clear advantage when it comes of light – but, that is a topic for another blog (bottle vs. can beer).
During the bottling process, we isolate random bottles, take samples and place the samples into petri dishes to conduct various tests for microbes. As a side note regarding our quality control measures, we also take at least 6 random sample bottles each time we bottle the beer. We put these bottles aside and test them periodically, looking for changes in any aspect.
When people ask about our shelf-life, we normally say about six months. After six months, most unpasteurized beer will start to show some change with age. While not all change is bad, it does run counter to consistency, which is one of our ultimate goals. We’re always re-evaluating our processes and looking for ways to improve. Even in just the last few months we’ve made terrific changes to our production process that have improved the quality and shelf life of our beer immensely. We can taste the difference and we hope you can, too!
So, there you go! We spend a LOT of time cleaning and caring for our equipment, and we obsess over our packaging process to make sure the quality of the beer is the highest possible, both now and into the future. Please let us know if you have any questions, and share with friends and relatives as you like. Was this interesting to you – how are we doing? Prost!
Lisa & Joe