BUYING THE PERFECT BEER FRIDGE

Brother Barley is off to Atlanta for a couple days for Wifey’s birthday. While we are ostensibly traveling for the express purpose of purchasing a new couch to replace our 7-year-old, haggard, ripped, stained, dog-chewed, baby-stained, beer-sodden sectional, I will, of course, be making a quick pit stop at one of ATL’s finer bottle shops (as yet undetermined) to restock my beer fridge.*

*Yes, they sell furniture in Birmingham too. But Birmingham is one of those odd cities that only seems to have very high-end and very low-end options no matter what you’re looking for. The most obvious example is restaurants…the city has a number of eateries which would dominate the culinary landscape in almost any city (most notable is the Highland’s Bar and Grill, a frequent James Beard “Best Restaurant in America” nominee). And, of course, we have a veritable cornucopia of cheap, down-home BBQ pits and meat-and-three diners. But there is a shocking lack of mid-range, mid-priced restaurants (think gastropubs) in the area. The same is true for something like furniture. Plenty of discount furniture warehouse-type places abound. And a handful of very high-end, custom furniture shops are available. But nothing in the Room and Board, Crate and Barrel vein of decent, but not too pricey stuff (which is about the best you can hope for in a house with two dogs and a toddler). So that’s my lengthy explanation for why we’re making a 2.5 hour drive to buy furniture. Also, the beer is much better in Atlanta…a town which has had one of the most amazing beer renaissances of any major US city over the past few years.

My current beer fridge is a very recent purchase. Up until now, I had a shelf set aside in our ample fridge for any every-day brews that needed to be kept cold. The high-gravity stuff that could sit and cellar for a bit was placed in my “beer closet” to stay dark and relatively cool. The problem is that the closet was really only a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house so it never dropped below 65 degrees. Cellared beer does a LOT better in the 50-55 degree range. Hence my purchase of a fridge solely for my beer. I bought a small (think of  a large dorm-fridge), GE Profile wine cooler and have been keeping it at a steady 52 degrees. If the beer in question requires more cooling (like a lager or pale ale), I just toss it in the big fridge an hour before consuming. For most high gravity options, they’re good to drink after a minute or two out of the beer fridge. I love it…it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made and Wifey likes it because there’s more room in the big fridge for frivolous things like “food” and “milk for our child”. Whatever.

After purchasing the fridge, Sudsy and I chatted about how to select a proper beer fridge. That conversation spurred me to write one of my patented, useless Top Ten lists. Hope this helps any of you in the market for a big box in which to keep your beer cold.

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TOP TEN TIPS FOR BUYING THE PERFECT BEER FRIDGE

  1. Buy a wine cooler: There are LOTS of mini-fridges and beverage centers out there which are cheap and easy to find. That’s great if all you’re storing is 30-packs of PBR or cans of Bud Light. Beers that bad beg to be consumed as cold as possible, so buy a dorm fridge, crank the thermostat down to one degree above freezing, and enjoy your watery swill. But for those of you looking for the perfect fridge for “good beer”, a wine cooler is more appropriate. As I said above, high gravity beers hold up best at cellar temps (between 50-55 degrees). Most fridges won’t hold stable temps above 45 degrees (for obvious reasons…food spoils quickly at those temps…but beer doesn’t!). Wine coolers are made to hold temps between 40-60 degrees (with some variation). So even though you won’t be using that bad boy for Cabs or Pinots, it’s still the perfect appliance for beer.
  2. Two-zone cooling: I actually violated this tenet (I just have one zone), because I’d like to use the fridge as a carboy-holder for homebrewing in the future. Two-zone fridges have a non-removable shelf in the middle that separates the two cooling zones. Because a carboy takes up almost the entire interior space, that shelf would kill my homebrewing plan. But assuming that’s not your intention, a two-zone wine cooler is ideal. With two zones, you can keep your lower gravity brews colder and fresher for longer while allowing your higher gravity beers to age and mellow at the higher temps they crave.
  3. Removable/customizable shelves: Wine lies down, but beer stands up. Since wine coolers are meant to hold vino, most of them are designed with relatively fixed shelves at specific heights. This is a problem for Aleheads since we need our purchases to stand upright and the heights vary immensely between 12-ounce bottles, bombers, and 750s. So make sure the shelves can all come out of the fridge AND that you have lots of options for where they go. The more placement options, the more efficient your fridge becomes. And a more efficient fridge holds more beer…which is a good thing. Because more beer = more beer.
  4. Sturdy, flat shelves: My wine cooler came with wooden slat shelves which easily hold and support upright bottles of beer. Most wine coolers come with curved wire shelves which can only hold bottles horizontally. Make SURE you check the shelves in the fridge before you purchase it to ensure they can hold your bottles vertically. For me, this was the key decision in my purchase.
  5. Opaque or smoked glass front: Beer and light are naturally enemies (it’s one of the reasons that bars are always so dark…the other one being so that women can’t see your ugly-ass face). Nothing spoils beer faster than being exposed to light. So make sure the front door of your fridge is either solid or has dark, smoked glass. Personally, I like the dark glass so I can peruse my holdings without having to open the door, but opaque is just fine.
  6. Bigger is better: An obvious one, but most wine coolers and beverage centers are fairly small. The assumption is that unless you’re a multi-millionaire with a true wine or beer cellar, you’re probably only storing a few dozen bottles at a time. This is certainly true for me as I tend to drink my beer fairly quickly and only have about 20-30 bottles in my beer fridge at any one time. But bigger fridges allow you to purchase multiple bottles of the same beer so you can see how they age over time. They also let you purchase six-packs, twelve-packs…even cases without concern. The fridge I bought is ample for my bombers, but a couple cases of beer would fill it up immediately. So if you can afford it, consider a larger fridge to give you more flexibility for your beer purchases.
  7. Looks matter: If the costs are comparable, spring for a better-looking model. Chances are you’re going to have your fellow Aleheads over from time to time to help you consume your beer collection. While the stuff INSIDE the fridge is the most important thing, there’s no harm in having a decent looking appliance to impress them when they stop by. Plenty of wine coolers are just ugly, black boxes. If you can, look for something with nice lines, a glass front, and a clean exterior. Good beer wants to be showcased. It’s vain like that.
  8. Avoid the super high-end models: Look, it’s just a box that keeps things cold. And it doesn’t even keep things as cold as a cheap-ass dorm fridge. So why spend thousands of dollars on the thing? I can understand why oenophiles plunk down cash to ensure that their $500 bottles of wine stay perfectly chilled. But do you really need to spend that type of money to cool down your $4 bottle of Pliny the Elder? So stay away from the Vinotemps and Avantis of the world and look for something a little less high-end. As long as you’re not getting the knock-off floor model from Crazy Ed’s Discount Appliance World, you’ll probably be OK.
  9. Test your fridge: OK…this is more of a tip for AFTER the purchase, but fridge thermostats aren’t perfect. Before you start stocking your new appliance with beer, toss a thermometer in the fridge and see how accurately the temp reading is. If it’s off by a couple degrees, adjust accordingly. Again, you’re generally looking to keep your high-gravity beer between 50-55 degrees (opinions vary).
  10. If you have a toddler, make sure your fridge has a lock: No explanation necessary unless you like broken glass and sticky floors.

Follow all of these rules and your beer will thank you. Happy shopping, Aleheads!

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8 comments

  1. Why don’t you also recommend that you name your fridge, decorate it and put an appropriate hood ornament on it? Perhaps Tara is a fitting name for yours. Or maybe it’s the Kingdom of Caring?

    Personally, I just open a window in my sons room and let the beer get the temp of a nice winter’s night. I like them ice brewed and stored. My son? Sleepig bags are super warm and a lot cheaper than another icebox. When it thaws I’ll take the food out of our existing fridge and tell me wife to order pizza for six months.

  2. BeerBanker · ·

    When eldest daughter moved into a dorm that had fridges in every suite, my beer fridge was born. Not quite free, but close enough. Sure, the temp is bloody cold, but beer will warm up to drink. My basement isn’t heated so my stock of 120 Minutes and Nemesisisis’s etc. stay at a reasonable temp and definitely in the dark…

    btw – Hop City is hands down the best “bottle shop” in town…I visit Kraig at lunch every couple of weeks, and if you skip the Brick Store in Decatur, sad for you…

  3. I spent an hour at Hop City this afternoon, BeerBanker. Thanks for the recommendation. I spent far too much money there but procured an epic haul which will last me for weeks (or days…or hours at least). Great selection and excellent organization…

    Caligula, my beer fridge’s name is Bruce. He’s an asshole but he keeps my beer cold so I tolerate him.

  4. BeerBanker · ·

    Glad you had a good visit. Fortunately for my beer tastes, unfortunately for my waistline & wallet, Kraig & HC are about 5 minutes from my office…I’ll look on the bright side, thank you very much…. And living 1.5 miles from the Brick Store has similar side effects…Oy, such a life ! Safe travels…

  5. These are what we call “1st World Problems”. Hooray America!

  6. There are some beer fridges that are made specifically beer and can reach temperatures in the mid-50s. They’re sold on my site and one of the biggest complaints is that they don’t get the beer cold enough (lowest temp is mid-30s). The majority of people seem to prefer their beer flavorless.

    Going with a dual zone wine fridge is a smart idea I hadn’t heard before. Makes perfect sense though for serving different types of beer. A good rule of thumb for choosing the size wine fridge you should get: Think about how much beer you want it to hold and then purchase at least the next larger size. That’s what they say for wine because collections grow, and one day you think you have a lot of space, the next you’re trying to find more.

  7. [...] (they’ll just set one at a higher temp for their barleywines and Imperial Stouts). Check out our guide to beer fridges for some helpful shopping tips. Umm…no. Think [...]

  8. [...] difference in one fridge from another. Just Google the topic and you will see many versions of the Top Ten Things to Look for in a Beer [...]

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