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How Important Is Cold-chain Refrigeration For Breweries


BTN, organizers of London Beer Competition, talks with Andrew Morgan, founder of "The Bottle Shop" and the UK’s greatest advocate of cold-chain distribution, about cold-chain refrigeration, its need in UK market and its benefits to breweries.

“Cold-chain distribution is like 4k TV,” says Andrew Morgan. “We used to have these huge TVs, and if you were watching football you could tell it was football. Then we got HDTV, and things got a lot better. Now we’ve got 4k and it’s almost three-dimensional; you can see the individual blades of glass.

“I like to compare that to the beer world; we’ve got a lot of 4K beer that we’re only drinking at HD level. It’s nice, but it could be so much better. That’s why cold-chain refrigeration is so important.”

Morgan, who founded The Bottle Shop in Canterbury in 2010, is the UK’s greatest advocate of cold-chain distribution. His company - which began importing beer from Europe and the US in 2016 - crowdfunded a £350,000, fully refrigerated warehouse in London last summer.

It means The Bottle Shop is now able to import beer from as far away as Los Angeles without it ever getting over six degrees centigrade. But why is it so important? Morgan explains:

It’s about hop bitterness and aroma; beer that isn’t properly kept will lose volatile hop flavour and aroma more quickly, he says. “You lose that outrageous hop character,” says Morgan. “It’s amazing to open one of these bottles fresh and someone three or four metres away goes, ‘What’s that?’

“Six months later, it can be still nice but the hop flavour and balance will be gone. The hops have reduced. Cold-chain helps you to preserve that for longer.”

Modern craft beer is different from big-name industrial lagers. It needs more care: “You need to think of beer in terms of normal milk and UHT Milk,” he says. “They’re both milk, but very different products. It’s the same with beer: the big industrial lagers are pasteurized and filtered so the beer has become inert - but the modern beer is not like that.

“The higher the temperature, the quicker beer gets worse, particularly in the first week after it leaves the brewery. In a warm summer, a six-month sell-by-date can be six weeks for unrefrigerated beer.”

The best American breweries take refrigeration very seriously. “When we first went to the States to talk to breweries about importing their beer, we found that the lack of refrigeration in the UK was a big problem,” he says.

“They’d often had bad experiences with their beer being sent to Europe unrefrigerated, and then - some time afterward - being criticised on social media. They want more control than that.”

Six degrees centigrade is the sweet spot for keeping beer in top shape, he says. “Sierra Nevada did some research a few years ago. What they discovered was: six degrees centigrade is the magic number because anything below six is not really giving you any benefit, but every degree above six there is a proportional rise in the degradation of the beer. Every degree matters.”

Breweries and bars might assume that cold-chain will cost them money, but that may not be the case. It could be good for beer quality, reputation and their bottom line insists Morgan. “We can offer bars better quality beer, but we know that if it's going to cost them more, they probably won’t do it,” he says. “What will win it for us is that they’ll get more out of those kegs. An unrefrigerated keg you might get 80 percent [of the beer] from because the beer will be fobbing - and we can give them 99 percent.

“It’s about cost-saving, efficiency, and quality. That’s what will make people want to go with cold-chain.”

About The Author:

The article is contributed by Will Hawkes. He is a freelance journalist specialising in beer and travel. He is an author of Craft Beer London, a guide to the city's burgeoning beer culture and a regular contributor to a host of publications including The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and Beer Advocate.

About London Beer Competition

The London Beer Competition (LBC) is an annual beer competition, organized by Beverage Trade Network, the leading online platform dedicated to connecting the global beverage industry. LBC recognizes and rewards beer brands based on quality, value for money and packaging. Know more about the competition here.

The 2022 London Beer Competition results are out. View full results here.