Like with most things in life there’s seldom one correct answer…just different answers that lead to differing outcomes.
Is Beer Pasteurization A Good Thing?
Named after the French scientist Louis Pasteur who developed the process back in 1864, pasteurization is the process of treating beer with heat in order to inhibit spoilage caused by microorganisms and prolong the shelf life of the beer.
Sometimes confused with sterilization, pasteurization is a temporary blast of heat (around 160°F) that stabilizes the beer by stopping the growth of the yeast that might remain in the beer after packaging.
Breweries use different methods of pasteurization…
There is “tunnel” pasteurization, where the filled cans or bottles are blasted with hot water and then cold water cooled as they move along a conveyor.
There’s also a technique called “flash” pasteurization where the beer is heated in a pipe (well, really a pipe within another pipe) as it flows from the filter to the bright tank using a thermal bypass system.
So yes pasteurization serves a purpose. It’s an effective tool especially for large breweries that transport their products widely.
But then there’s the flavor issue…
Opponents of pasteurization insist that the process robs a beer of its essential flavors. And some small operations and brewpubs actively market that they don’t pasteurize as a way of suggesting that their brews are more flavorful.
There are beer advocates (more to the fringe) who equate beer pasteurization to castration, and others who feel that the process leaves many beers with a ‘burnt sugar’ flavor.
In Pasteur’s time, it was probably a VERY good idea to sterilize products that were meant for long-term storage, mass distribution, and consumption.
But times have changed….
Technology has improved, refrigeration and attention to sterilization have advanced. And pasteurization is now considered by many to be no longer as crucial as it once was. Especially if that process is at the cost of a beer’s flavor.
Like with anything there’s the practical versus the ideal in a brewery’s decision to pasteurize (or not).
And consumers will eventually decide with their dollars…
Louis Pasteur Image: Wikimedia