You have noticed the term “bottle conditioned” on a beer bottle, but what does it mean? Essentially, it means that your beer is still fermenting inside the bottle and improving with time.
Brewers use bottle conditioning to carbonate the beer and activate the yeast before packaging. Although it is not commonly used, when you come across a bottle-conditioned beer, you should take extra care in storing and pouring it.
What is Bottle Conditioned Beer?
Bottle conditioning is one method that brewers use to carbonate beer. By taking advantage of the live yeast remaining in the beer after fermentation, the brewer adds a small amount of sugar to the beer just before sealing it in the bottle.
This triggers a secondary fermentation process, which produces carbon dioxide and a negligible amount of alcohol. Since the beer is sealed in the bottle, the CO2 has nowhere to escape and is absorbed by the beer, causing fermentation.
This means that bottle-conditioned beer continues to age inside the bottle. Similar to wine, the beer will develop and enhance its flavors over time. Unlike wine, this process also creates a pleasant, gentle carbonation.
In theory, the longer the beer rests during in-bottle fermentation, the better it becomes. Some brewers have been known to store a case for ten or more years.
Bottle conditioning leads to a thin layer of dead yeast cells collecting at the bottom of the bottle. These cells are harmless and, in certain beer styles, contribute to the beer’s overall profile.
While many beer styles are valued for their clarity, others are expected to be cloudy and have a yeasty taste.
How to Store Bottle Conditioned Beer
Always store bottle-conditioned beer upright, never on its side.
Keep the bottles in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
The optimal storage temperature is approximately 53.6 F (12 C).
Do not store the bottles in the refrigerator.
Yeast becomes very active at higher temperatures, which can ruin the beer. It will have a shorter shelf life and may become excessively carbonated, often causing foaming when opened.
Avoid excessive jostling or shaking of the bottles as it can disturb or kill the yeast.
How to Serve Bottle Conditioned Beer
The presence of residual yeast in bottle-conditioned beer can surprise some drinkers. Don’t worry, it is completely natural and safe to consume. However, it is recommended to avoid pouring all the yeast into your glass, which is why a slow pour is important for bottle-conditioned beer.
When pouring, do so slowly and smoothly to minimize disturbance of the yeast.
It’s often advisable to leave the last bit of beer in the bottle where the yeast has settled, and not pour it into your glass.
Bottle-conditioned beer can be served cold or at room temperature, depending on your preference. Many beer enthusiasts prefer pale and golden ales in a chilled glass or after 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Darker ales are often best enjoyed at the optimal storage temperature of around 50 F.