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Ask The Masters

Question: After I've kegged my beer, and it's carbonated, would it be safe to store it as cellar temperature if I need to use the refrigerator/freezer for another brew?

Master Calvin responds: Yes, it's safe to store it at cellar temperature, but it is not ideal. If you have to put it in the cellar for a couple of weeks, try to get it back into refrigeration later. Beer degrades much more rapidly when it is not refrigerated, and this applies not only to kegs but also to bottled beer. Remember the admonishments from Coors many years ago to store their beer cold because it was not pasteurized? That's your homebrew, and that holds with many microbrews, too. A beer that might keep in fine shape for a couple of months at cellar temps will last a year in a cold fridge.

There are two things to consider: Sanitation and aging/oxidation/staling.

Any sanitation problems, even minor, are accentuated with warmer storage. Beerspoilage organisms, similar to yeast, slow to a crawl when the beer is held near freezing for storage. Even slight lapses in sanitation can give problems in warm storage, especially if you have wild yeast that can make use of starches or dextrins that remain in the beer, and remember that none of our equipment is sterile, only sanitized.

Oxidation and staling reactions can also proceed much quicker at higher temperatures. Using some rough rules of thumb, storing your beer at 70 F will age your beer about 5 to 10 times faster than storage near freezing. If you don't have a cellar and thus have to store beer where room temperatures might get to 80 F in summer, you can almost double that rate again! Yeast is a great anti-oxidant and helps counteract this at first, but yeast in fully fermented, aged, carbonated batch is practically inactive and can cause its own problems as it dies and degrades. Thus, once your beer hits its prime, keep that beer cold for as long as you can. Obviously, a 10% ABV barleywine that is harsh and young can be kept at cellar temperature and in fact really ought to be held there while it ages. It's got enough alcohol and hops to greatly reduce bacterial problems, and the usual oxidation reactions are in some cases actually desirable in this type of beer, creating the touch of sherry and raisiny flavors that are part of the profile. Just don't over do it with too many years of warm storage.

But for a lighter type of beer, once it has reached its peak, it's fine to store it in the cellar for the short term, but the best thing you can do to preserve its quality is to store it in a cold, dark refrigerator, just above freezing if possible.

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