By Gail Oberst
Enquiring minds (and tongues!) want to know what gadgets are in place to keep Oregon beers fresh and up-to-date. Aaron Brussat of The Bier Stein answered a few questions about LED (light- emitting diode) lights used in their business. This simple technology helped this Eugene bar/growler-fill station/restaurant/bottle shop to be the West’s favorite bar in a recent reader poll conducted by the Brewers Association.
OBG: How do you use LED lights in storage, or are they throughout your business?
Brussat: We have LED lighting throughout the building, but most importantly, LEDs light our beer cooler where we have individual bottles for sale.
OBG: What is the benefit of those lights?
Brussat: LED lights do not emit UV light. UV light reacts with hop compounds (isohumulones) in beer and creates mercaptan (methanethiol), which smells like skunk, and is in fact the same chemical that skunks use to deliver their stinky punch. While brown glass does effectively block around 88% of UV light and most of our bottles are brown glass, we took the most preventative step to ensure no beer would be skunked.
Additionally, LED lights use about 50% less energy than fluorescent or CFL bulbs, which made it an economical and environmental move for The Bier Stein’s large new space.
OBG: What standards are you using for cold storage and date codes?
Brussat: As soon as beer enters our building, it is brought into a 17-by-30-foot walk-in cooler (lit with LEDs). Every case and keg is checked for a date. We even have a list of date codes to decipher some of the more cryptic codes (why breweries choose to do this is beyond me; beer is a food product and should be labeled with a clear date of packaging, if not a best-by date that accurately reflects its flavor shelf life). Beer without date codes (again, why a brewery would do itself and its customers this disservice is beyond me) is generally given 90 days. Exceptions are made for stronger, darker, and mixed fermentation (sour/wild) beers. All beer (with the exception of a few gift packs and large bottles) is kept cold until it is purchased.
Our inventory system lets us put an expiration date on items, so we calculate how many days a beer has left, input that, and do regular checks. If a beer is still around a week or so before it goes out of code, we put it on sale.
OBG: What would your customers notice as a result?
Brussat: We are especially attentive to hoppy beers; hop aroma and flavor degrade at a rapid rate, so that even three months after a beer is bottled, the hop aroma will be significantly reduced. We do not accept IPA that is over 90 days old — that is our standard — because we want our customers to have the satisfaction of drinking a beer the way the brewer intended.
Regarding other beer styles, cold storage helps prevent oxidation, which dulls beer flavor and makes it taste like cardboard. And for some odd reason, people like their beverages cold!
OBG: When you moved into your place last year, what new technology did you install and why?
Brussat: A couple of upgrades were necessary. Our DigitalPour draft list replaced hand-written boards; with the larger space, twice as many beers, and, to be frank, variable penmanship skills, we needed a more dynamic system that would be easier to read from over 10 feet away. The DigitalPour system allows us and our customers to see how much is left in a keg; those who don’t want to miss out on that barrel-aged imperial stout don’t have to guess when it will kick, and we keep an accurate inventory of stock.
Another technological upgrade lies in our draft system hardware. We use a long-draw system; beer travels between 40 and 70 feet to reach the tap. The lines are chilled with glycol until they reach the draught towers. We also installed individual pressure regulators for each keg, as well as foam-on-beer (FOB) detectors. A FOB is a small chamber with a plunger that drops and stops gas from entering the main beer line when a keg is empty. Empty space in beer line means that the beer following it will foam as CO2 escapes solution, which creates a lot of waste in a system as long as ours. FOBs prevent a lot of beer from going down the drain.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.