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Breweries' Unsung Heroes Quietly Keep Beer Tasting Fresh on the 'Cold Side'

Kegs are lined up ready to be filled in a brewery with tanks surrounding them.

FAWNING OVER BREWERS IS A PRETTY COMMON PRACTICE IN THE CRAFT BEER WORLD. It's not hard to see why - typically it is the brewer that is the creative impetus for the scintillating liquid we all enjoy. Many times, depending on the size of the brewery and the organizational structure he/she/they are overseeing many different aspects of the brewery, or even actually performing all the duties themselves. Maybe that's why we have come to admire brewers so much. It's the recognition that they don't just possess skills and creativity we envy, it's that they create something that is a source of pleasure, so psychologically maybe feel indebted to them. Maybe it's that they are the physical embodiment of our favorite libation. Who knows. There is a tendency, though, to think of your average brewer as a hipster version of Al Borland (What did you expect? Taylor Swift?) standing atop his brew stand concocting some kind of witch's brew that miraculously turns into a golden nectar overnight. The truth is, first of all that not all brewers are men, but also that the brewing portion is only a fraction of the process and there are a number of touch points that are critical to producing a beer that's not only delicious the day it's packaged but equally so up to 90 days after. That's called shelf stability, and it happens in the cellar.

A vintners hose transfers cold beer to a fermentor
Food-grade vintners hose allows for sterile transfer of wort and beer to minimize infection risk

The "cold side" is a term that refers to all the stages of production after the wort (what is essentially grain tea, for lack of a better term) is chilled. Of course you can't have the cold side without the hot side, which is everything leading up to the boil, including the grain milling, mashing, lautering, boiling, and whirlpooling. You see, after the hops are boiled, the resulting liquid needs to be chilled before the yeast can be added. Yeast, after all, is a living organism so clearly it can't be added to an environment over 200 degrees.

Fermentors sit in line with brewing hoses hanging around.
Fermentors are mostly kept under pressure through fermentation to ensure contaminants and oxygen are kept out

Once the wort is cooled en route to the fermentor, or "knocked out" in brewery terms, beer spoilage becomes the most important variable to monitor. Not only is there an immediate risk of contamination because of the lower temperature, but there is also a risk that it will degrade due to oxidation. Every step along the way from fermentation through clarification, carbonation, packaging, storage, and transportation is taken with care to mitigate aging factors in the beer. What we are saying is...once that beer leaves the kettle, the clock starts ticking. Here is a short list of touch points that really matter:

  • Thorough cleaning and sanitizing of all tanks, processing, and packaging equipment through thermal, chemical, and physical means.

  • Proper storage including temperature monitoring, inventory cycling (FIFO), and periodic quality control testing.

  • Lab testing throughout the entire beer lifecycle (this could be months after the beer is produced)

  • Driving away Oxygen at every opportunity including brewing, knock out, fermentation, transferring, clarification, carbonation, and packaging.

Yeah. Thats just the Cliff Notes version.

So how much of a beer's journey does the "brewer" actually influence? Well, it depends on the brewery and the brewer or brewers. Certain key players like supervisors, managers, directors, and even owners play a role in deciding the quality of the finished product by managing effectively and making important decisions that have to be executed by employees, but for that to all happen in unison is a testament to the passion of the beer industry and the commitment of its workers from top to bottom. That's not to say the brewer doesn't deserve all the attention they get, but there are many unsung heroes around the brewery. 15, to be exact in our case. This team of packaging technicians, keg washers, and warehouse workers, to name a few, all work in tandem in the name of beer longevity and preservation.

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