How to Chill Your Beer Using Science

Every person had this happen to them. More than once in fact. People plan out a picnic, barbecue, party, or even quiet night home over a couple of beers. The only issue is that they forgot to chill the beer in time. And everyone knows there is nothing worse than lukewarm beer.

But this is where science comes in to save the day. One of the most basic principles that science can help us with is the principle of thermodynamics. And that is exactly what helps cool that warm bottle of beer.

How to Cool Liquid As Quickly As Possible

The easiest method to cool liquid rapidly is by using the salt water method. It is the most basic, but that is what makes it ideal. Anyone can do it and everyone has the necessary ingredients.

People should just follow these four easy steps:

  1. Fill a cooler (or any other sealable container that keeps the temperature stable) with a generous amount of water, ice, and salt. The more salt is in the cooler, the quicker the cooling is. The amount of ice is important as well and should not be overdone. The water level should be high enough to completely submerge the bottles or cans of beer.
  2. The beers need to be submerged completely but not too tightly so the water can cool the cans more evenly
  3. The entire process takes about five minutes.
  4. Enjoy cool and refreshing beer.

The Science Behind the Salt Water Method

The freezing point of plain unsalted water is about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to its contents, salt water can get cooler quicker and still remain in its liquid form. This phenomenon is known as freezing point depression, and it occurs as salt dissolves in the water and lowers its freezing point. During this process, the sodium and chloride ions are formed, and they then interfere with the water’s ability to form the crystalline structure we know as ice.

But, salt also raises the boiling point of water. This is where the notion that you should not add salt water when boiling comes from. Even though this is true, the amount of salt necessary for something like this never finds its way into people’s pots.

If people put their beer into an ice-water bath, the beer cools down fairly quickly due to the fact that liquid conducts heat so well. Effectively, the icy water pulls heat from the beer and the beer cools down. The issue is that you can only add so much ice to the water before it stops cooling down. If the temperature of the water went below 32 degrees Fahrenheit it turns into more ice. Even ice that has been kept at zero degrees in the freezers cannot get the water temperature any lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit as it melts.

This is where the salt comes in. By adding salt, the melting point of water lowers. Add salt to ice and the ice melts. Observing this it might seem that the salt is melting the ice faster when in fact the salt is just turning the ice into ice water of the same temperature.

So, salt water can get much colder than plain water. Salty ice that has the temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit still melts but the temperature stays below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, as the water bath lowers in temperature the beer cools down quicker.

How Can Spinning the Bottles Help?

Fortunately, if five minutes is too long of a time to wait for the beer to cool down, there is an extra thing people can do. Spinning the bottles/cans also helps with the cooling process.

As mentioned before, water is already a solid conductor of heat. The issue is that it takes time for heat to transfer from one object; in this case, the beer can to the cold bath. In the container itself, because of the way that heat spreads, the fluid in the center always has a higher temperature than the parts of the liquid along the edges, at least initially. Going on the same principle, the water in the bath closest to the beer can is always warmer than the rest of the water surrounding the can. This can be somewhat helped by gently spinning the bottles which then redistributes the heat transfer from beer to water. But the bottles have to be spun gently to keep the beer from being shaken up.

This may be accomplished in a few different ways. One of them is to add a can of compressed air into the equation and let it slowly rotate the bottles. Another way this can be achieved is by connecting the bottles to a power drill, without the drill bit of course. There are even specialized companies that sell devices intended solely for this purpose. But in all honesty, people that forget to cool their beers in advance probably are not looking into a device such as this.

The best method is the one mentioned at the start of the article. Saltwater baths are proven to work and have been used for a long time. The five minutes of waiting needed for the process to finish are more than worth it for the end result.

So when you are in a pinch and need to cool your beer quickly, just grab a pinch of salt. Well, more like a heaping bath full of salt.


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