We’ve all been there. You’re getting ready to have friends over, show the game at your house, or entertain guests for dinner. You were well prepared ahead of time and went to the store to buy beer early in the afternoon. But when you got home, the beer never made it into the fridge! Now, people are arriving in 30 minutes and you need cold beer, pronto. Today, we’ll discuss a few different ways to save the party and how to chill beer fast.
Paper Towels + Water + Freezer
- Works very quickly
- Can be labor-intensive to wrap each individual beer
- Limited cooling capacity unless you have access to a larger freezer
This method might be your best option if you only have a few beers to cool down, or at least need a few cold beers right away. First, set the beers you’d like to cool down next to your kitchen sink and make sure you have a roll of paper towels (or thin reusable cloths) handy. Next, wet each paper towel and carefully wrap it around the outside of the beer. You are aiming to have as much surface contact between the beer and the paper towel as possible. Move beers to the freezer and allow them to cool.
This method works very quickly because of the larger difference in temperature between warm beer and your freezer vs. warm beer and a cooler. The cooler will only ever reach down to 32° F – any colder and it would freeze! Depending on your freezer, the temperature could be as much 35-50 degrees colder than a cooler. Warning: do not forget to remove the beer from the freezer. Some beer, especially lower ABV beer, will freeze and cause its can or bottle to explode.
Water + Ice
- Easy, readily available materials
- Requires a receptacle large enough, like a cooler or large bucket
- Can require quite a bit of ice
This is likely the easiest, cheapest option that most people would opt for if not in a rush. Many people own or at least have access to a cooler and ice, so it’s the perfect method for a last-minute fix. As an added bonus, the cooler is easy to move around to different locations. If you need cold beer outside, but your ice and water is inside, not a problem.
The biggest thing to consider when you need to use this method to cool beer quickly is the ratio of ice to water. The reason that beer cools faster in your cooler with ice than in your fridge (even if they are the same temperature) is rather scientific: it relates to thermal conductivity. This concept describes the relative ability of a substance to conduct heat. The higher the value, the better and faster a material can transmit thermal energy.
For example, the thermal conductivity of concrete is roughly 1.0 Wm-1K-1 (Watts per meter-Kelvin) while the value for cardboard is much lower at 0.5 Wm-1K-1. This partially explains why standing barefoot on concrete feels much colder than cardboard: the concrete is transmitting the heat away from the soles of your feet much faster.
For our cooler, consider the thermal conductivity values for water and air: .61 vs .03, respectively. Water is much better at transmitting heat away from your beer, so don’t just fill a cooler with ice and set the beer on top! Make sure each and every beer is surrounded by water and ice, and try to make sure to shift the contents of the cooler around every few minutes.
- Works very fast
- Works just as well with larger bottles
- Usually, only one beer at a time can be cooled
There are several different kinds of auto-coolers on the market today, but they all function in practically the same way. They work by running a stream of near-freezing water over the beverage as it is rotated. This is beneficial for two reasons. First, the jet of water guarantees that fresh, cold water will be moving over the can. Secondly, the rotation of the can ensures that the contents of the can are moved around, and the warmest areas of beer come in contact with the aluminum exposed to the water.
While the claims made by each brand are different, most of their stated ‘cooling times’ are highly impressive. They usually claim to be able to cool a beer from room temperature (~70° F) to refrigerator temperature (40° F) in under a minute! This is a much faster cooldown than any other option in this list, but if you need ten beers to be cold, this can get to be rather labor and time-intensive.
- Works relatively fast
- Will last for a very long time
- Still requires a cooler
- Can be difficult to find
Dry ice is not only a fantastic way to keep beer cold for long periods of time, but it’s also a great way to chill beer fast. The chilling power of dry ice, like the chilling power of the wet paper towel, is derived from the vast temperature difference between the dry ice and the warm beer. Dry ice is actually frozen carbon dioxide, and maintains a near-constant temperature of -110° F. This means that the temperature difference between warm beer and dry ice is likely around 175° F!
In order to really utilize the cooling power of dry ice, you will need a cooler. Do not put dry ice into the freezer! Place the dry ice inside of your cooler and place a small sheet of cardboard on top of that. You can then stack beer on top of the cardboard, but keep in mind that the more beer you attempt to cool, the slower the cooling process will go!
What About Keeping Kegs Cold?
The obvious way to lower the temperature of a keg is to simply add ice and water in a large tub with your keg. That will usually do the trick. If you’re in a big hurry, try adding a bit of salt to your ice water, until the ice starts melting. That will get your keg’s temperature down in a matter of minutes!
But if you’d like to get slightly more elaborate and long-term with your keg chilling, consider converting an old fridge and adapting its temperature with a CoolBot and a standard air conditioner. A DIY kegerator!
Which method you choose will depend on your specific circumstance. Whether you have a cooler, ice, access to dry ice, or a fancy machine will affect how quickly you can get your beer from countertop temperature to drinking temperature. Regardless of which method is best for you, not forgetting to chill your beer beforehand will always be easier!
And if this is a frequently occurring problem for you, you could consider stocking up on beer and keeping it cold year-round with your own DIY walk-in cooler or kegerator! We’ve got some thoughts on that if you’re interested.