The “Bottled beer” series explores how to prepare a bottled beer for service and – all importantly – how to pour it! New to the series? Start here.
Before we pour a bottle of beer, we’ve got to make sure it’s stored at the right temperature, fit for service and that we have the right tools handy to open our bottle, depending on the closure used.
Store the bottle correctly
The first step in preparing our bottle for service is storage.
This means storing the beer upright (especially if it’s been bottle-conditioned, as this will let any yeast sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle) and, if possible, at its ideal serving temperature which is determined by style.
If bottled beer is stored in the same cold room as kegged beer, that should be held at a temperature of 3 °C (38 °F). But, if a separate cold storage area for bottles is available, a temperature closer to 6 °C (43 °F) is recommended.
And if you can get more precise than that, you can use slightly warmer temperatures for ales, compared to lagers. Darker beers and stronger beers are also generally served a few degrees warmer, as this will bring out more of their aroma and flavour.
Examine the bottle
Once a bottle has been selected, be sure to examine it before opening, just to make sure it’s fit for service and that it doesn’t have any signs that it’s past its prime.
What are we looking for?
- Snow-like white flakes (caused by proteins coming out of solution) can indicate an old, unstable beer.
- A thin ring of residue at liquid level in the neck of the bottle is also generally indicative of a bad bottle if present.
If either of these issues are seen, don’t serve beer in this condition. Grab another bottle to examine.
Lastly, be sure to check for yeast on the bottle of the bottle, as this will determine which pouring method we’ll use.
For the most part, any yeast sediment will be retained in the bottle when pouring a bottle-conditioned or unfiltered beer, unless it’s a style that’s often served with the yeast (like German weissbier or Belgian witbier) or if you’re serving the beer to a customer who requests for the yeast to be poured.
Either way, you’ll learn how to pour without disturbing the sediment – and how to rouse it – in the next article on pouring. (Linked to below.)
Open the bottle
Now it’s time to open the bottle!
The proper procedure for this step varies based on the type of closure used. As a note: the technical name for a beer cap is a crown (or crown cap), so that’s what you’ll see it called below.
Twist-off crown cap
We’re starting simple. With the twist-off crown cap, simply do just that: twist off by hand. You may want to use a napkin to help aid your grip or to protect your hand.
Pry-off crown cap
With a standard pry-off crown cap, it’s best to use a bottle opener with a lift area of at least 0.5 cm (0.25 inch) wide to prevent the possibility of breaking the bottle during opening. The aim is to lift the cap off in one smooth motion, particularly to avoid rousing the yeast in a bottle-conditioned beer.
Wax-dipped crown cap
With this a type of closure, we first need to make the crown cap accessible (as it’s covered in wax!) before we can open the bottle. Start by using a pairing knife or the blade of a wine key to cut out a small notch of wax below the crown cap. Then insert a bottle opener into this space and lift the crown cap off in one motion, being careful to make sure that no flakes of wax fall into the bottle. If needed, use a clean napkin or bar towel to wipe any wax debris from the lip of the bottle before pouring.
Crown cap plus cork
With the crown plus cork, it’s incredibly important that we practice cork safety. This means keeping the bottle pointed away from anyone at all times.
First, open the bottle using a bottle opener with a wide enough lift area and lift the crown cap off in one motion. Then, get your corkscrew ready. Place the tip of the corkscrew in the centre of the cork and turn clockwise to drive the corkscrew into the cork. When removing the cork, do so slowly and gently to avoid disturbing the sediment and making the beer volatile.
Mushroom cork (aka cork and cage)
Again, with the cork and cage, cork safety is key here. This means keeping the bottle pointed away from anyone at all times.
First, untwist the tab to remove the wire cage, then hold your thumb over the cork at all times once the cage has been removed. Tighten your grip around the cork then place your other hand on the bottle and slowly twist the bottle to loosen the cork. (You may want to use a napkin to aid your grip.) When removing the cork, do so slowly and gently to avoid disturbing the sediment and making the beer volatile.
(Note that if you’re opening a bottled beer for a customer, a cork should always be retained and presented. And if it’s a rare, unusual, or new beer, the crown cap should be retained and presented, too.)
Check the bottle lip
Once the bottle is open, we’ve got one last check to do before we pour it: look at the bottle lip.
If there are any chips or damage, don’t serve this beer, as it’s possible that glass shards may have entered the bottle. Go ahead and open another one.
Also be sure to examine the bottle lip for rust, dried beer or yeast, as this could affect the flavour and appearance of the beer.
What about cans?
I can imagine you might be left thinking “We’ve only talked about bottles here. What do we do about cans?”
With cans, we can’t do any visual quality checks as we can’t see inside. But we can follow the same storage guidelines (upright at the appropriate service temperature for the style) and just before opening, I like to wipe the top of the can with a clean napkin or bar towel to remove any possible debris.
Now, let’s learn how to pour!