One of our more visited posts is titled Pasteurization in Brewing 101, featuring some thoughts and valued information from Mark Phipps, Technical Director at Alltech Brewing & Distilling Company, widely known as the brewer of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.
Recently, as a follow up, we received a question from a reader asking about the whys and wherefores of the temperature at which beer would be pasteurized, should one choose to do so. While this question was, in reality, answered in the context of Mark’s comments, this sparked some further conversation about the process, why some brews are pasteurized, some not, pros, cons, and the inner workings of the industry, at least in that respect, one taking place between Dr. Carol Westbrook, our YBN Beer Doctor, and Taylor McIntosh, brewer at the award winning Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, during a visit that we’ll post about shortly.
Happily, in yet another focus on the subject, we have here some insightful comments from the perspective of Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations at Louisiana’s Abita Brewing. Thanks to Jaime for taking the time and Dr. Westbrook for sending this along
Jaime Jurado, Abita Brewing
Most brewers in the world pasteurize beer, including many craft breweries. Sterile filtration can fail, and beer can get infected at packaging….tunnel pasteurization covers all that. Flash pasteurization has the same limitation, as sterile filtration in that pristine beer can get infected immediately after it exits either the sterile filter or flash pasteurizer, so greater care is required, and more hygienic engineering design integrated. A ‘sterile fill-capable’ filler can cost at least $1.5million, yet a “normal” beer filler (not aseptically-certified) at the same throughput can cost as little as $225,000. Since the USA has no larger-scale packaging machinery fabricators, the European standard testing A-3 is the baseline aseptic-cababilty certification testing.
The irony is that in the USA, most brewers do not pasteurize kegged beer (unlike the rest of the world), so that’s why beer kegs are kept refrigerated at all times and, hopefully, across the entire life of the filled keg. Our largest brewers do not pasteurize keg beer.
Many craft beers cannot be sterile filtered, and those that are may experience some degree of flavor scalping and stripping as the beer is push through 0.22 micron to 0.45 micron polymeric or ceramic filtration media.
It is true that pasteurization at least TEMPORARILY changes beer flavor, but in work I’ve done, the best flavor panel in the world could not discern Control vs Pasteurized after three days had passed (for mainstream-style lager beers). When you briefly heat beer, you increase the rate of oxidation during that period, but I guess after 3 days, the level of oxidation effects are the same in unpasteurized beer. I have not yet done the careful comparative work on highly-hopped beers, but then most IPAs I know are not pasteurized. The ones that have residual yeast for bottle-conditioning certainly would never be, but these ales have higher hopping, and with that comes natural manta-microbial support form the packaged ale itself.
Is it true that many, many small breweries have no sterile filtration nor pasteurization of any kind? Of course that is true. And some of these travel quite far before they are consumed, often having long storage times, too. Loads of people are happy to drive without seat belts while also texting on their mobile phones. Despite understanding the risks, loads of people enjoy smoking cigarettes and some people happily let their children enjoy swimming in the pool unsupervised.
A pasteurizer represents an investment and a commitment to sustained quality and security as much as putting on that seatbelt and choosing to not text while driving. It’s true that a number of beer aficionados look down on the process, express that only mega-breweries use it, that’s it’s wrong for craft beers. And there certainly are brewers who came into professional brewing from home brewer or beer service backgrounds, and use their platforms as brewers in craft breweries to reinforce the opinions that pasteurized beer has had some of it specialness removed. It reminds me a little of many brewers who espouse cans over bottles and never mention that the cheapest can filler system is cheaper than the cheapest bottle fill system, and the cans themselves along with six-pack rings and cardboard trays can be 50% cheaper than bottles, labels, six-packs and cases. A brewer who expresses that pasteurization is inherently problematic may not share that their brewery can’t or won’t afford one.
Every Master Brewer I know who pasteurizes beer sleeps better because it is inevitable that sometimes something will slip through, from a slight tear on a filter pad, for example, or a chance passage through an imperfectly cleaned and sanitized hose or coupling or union. And if not denatured, it could change flavor in the package for worse. We all know how draught beer can sometimes disappoint us, and we know that if lines aren’t cleaned correctly and with the right frequency, then the beer itself changes flavor. Imagine if that variability was our standard for packaged beers our friends purchased; Please download the free BA manual on draught dispense at http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/community/news/show?title=new-and-improved-draught-beer-quality-website
In spiritu cerevisiae,