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Getting the beer ready for sale


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Bottling lines tend to move very quickly, producing dozens of filled bottles per minute, as at this line at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto, or even up to 50,000 or more per hour!

By: Stephen Beaumont


Typically, beer is packaged in either a bottle, can or keg. In any of these three formats, it can be pasteurized for preservation, or filtered for clarity and stability, bottled unfiltered with small amounts of yeast still in solution or bottle-fermented or cask-conditioned, and sometimes keg-fermented, for what is sometimes known as “live” beer.


Filtration will be the first step in almost all of these processes, since even beer intended for refermentation will generally have new yeast added to it. (Beer intended to be bottled unfiltered will be first “fined” rather than filtered, a process during which the yeast is drawn to the bottom of the fermenter by various added organic or mineral “fining agents,” such as isinglass, Irish moss or gelatin.) The key for the brewer is to filter for clarity without sacrificing flavour, since too tight a filtration will literally squeeze the taste out of a beer while too coarse a filter will result in a beer that pours hazy in the glass.


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Filling kegs at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto

Following filtration, a beer can be packaged and sent out for sale in the can, bottle or keg, or heat-pasteurized prior to release. Some brewing experts will argue that pasteurization is essential for a beer to have shelf-stability and a long life, while others insist that it knocks the character and taste out of a beer and is unnecessary if the beer has been properly filtered and treated. 


Bottle-fermented beers, in which the beer undergoes a final light fermentation in the bottle, are generally not pasteurized, although pasteurization could in theory co-exist with bottle-fermentation. In order to ferment a beer in the bottle, a brewer will mix either sugar or fresh wort into the finisher brew prior to bottling, and then add a carefully measured amount of live yeast to consume the new sugars in the bottle. This process calls for great care, since not enough added sugar will result in a beer that pours flatter than intended while too much sugars could result in enough carbon dioxide that the bottle would be at risk of exploding.

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The bottling line at Sprecher Brewing in Milwaukee must be one of the most atmopsheric in the United States.

A process known as cask-conditioning may also be used in place of kegging, producing a beer sometimes known as real ale. For this, small amounts of yeast and unfermented beer will be added to the cask and the final fermentation of the beer will take place in the barrel from which it will be poured. The managing of such beers requires expertise on the part of the staff of the bar or restaurant where it will be served, since proper waiting time, venting of the cask and management of the beer is necessary to the creation of a perfect glass of beer. While growing in popularity throughout the world, cask-conditioning is still mainly practiced in the United Kingdom.



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