Unpasteurized Beer Explained – What You Need to Know

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: January 6, 2022

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In the world of beer, there are many trends. Glitter beer. Hazy IPAs. Sours. Low- and non-alcoholic beers. Where there is room to innovate and make better, brewers are pushing the limits. One of the trends on the rise is unpasteurized beer. While live beer is more common than you might realize, there is a special reason why it’s been a hot topic for the past few years.

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What is Unpasteurized Beer?

If you think that unpasteurized beer is similar to unpasteurized milk, you’re correct. But do you know what pasteurization involves? Probably not. So here is a simple explanation to begin: pasteurization is a process that heats a liquid—such as beer—to a temperature that kills off bacteria and dangerous microbes. That is around 212°F (100°C). Many brewers have used pasteurization as a means of stabilizing and sterilizing their brews without needing to change the beer.

Here is where emphasis on many brewers is needed. Craft breweries rarely pasteurize their beers, while many commercial and domestic beers—Budweiser (excluding the Budvar variety), Coors, Millers—are always pasteurized. Keg or bottle form, most products from domestic brands, even Heineken, are pasteurized.

So when you see that beer is unpasteurized, it means that the pasteurization step was skipped.

A Brief History of Unpasteurized Beer

Did you know that the process of pasteurization was first invented by Louis Pasteur, a French scientist who sought to make French beer tastier? He originally started his work in the grape fields of France, but he later moved on to ale. Pasteur was studying diseases that were present in beer, and he noted that beer fermented at higher temperatures would spoil faster.

Pasteur decided to do something about that. In 1873, Pasteur patented his design for pasteurization, a process that revolutionized beer processing and packaging.

Check out this video on its history from Budweiser Budvar:

Is Unpasteurized Beer Safe to Drink?

Most beers, regardless if they are filtered or unfiltered, pasteurized or unpasteurized, have been sterilized. When they are left unpasteurized, this means that any microorganisms in the beer are killed off by the alcohol. Oftentimes, it also has probiotics that can boost your gut health, though the alcohol will negate that if you drink too much.

Furthermore, the yeast present in unpasteurized bottles of beer will grow unfettered, and that elevates the flavor of the beer exponentially. When comparing pasteurized vs unpasteurized beer flavor, people often say the latter is ambrosial.

What is Its Shelf Life?

The main benefit of pasteurization is that it extends the shelf life of the beer. A bottle of pasteurized beer can remain fresh-tasting for about six to nine months. Some can last up to a year in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, unpasteurized beers can last anywhere between 60 to 180 days, depending on the packaging and if it is kept in constant refrigeration.

If you purchase it, make sure you don’t let it get hot; no one likes skunky, off-tasting beer!

Unpasteurized Beer List: Who Makes It?

There are many brands out there who are putting unpasteurized beer on the shelves. Many of the companies also use organic ingredients, making their beers healthier. Interestingly, many of the beers you find in Europe are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and organic already; if you live there, you’re lucky. In the US, it is a bit harder to come by and may require a trip to the West Coast. Fortunately, some East Coast brewers are also adding unpasteurized beers to their menu.

Can’t find it no matter where you go? Look for “bottle conditioned” on the label. That’s another term meaning “unpasteurized” and means that yeast was added in during the bottling stage for added carbonation.

Here are some brands to look for:

  • Rush River Brewing
  • Orval
  • Lindemans
  • Trappistes Rochefort
  • Allagash
  • Budweiser Budvar
  • Schneider Weisse
  • North Coast Brewing Co.
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Great Divide Brewing Co.
  • Weihenstephaner
  • Dogfish Head
  • Bison Brewing
  • Samuel Smith’s
  • Ayinger
  • Wychwood
  • Brooklyn Brewery
  • Deschutes Brewery
  • Lakefront Brewery
  • Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
  • Kona Brewing Company
  • Widmer Brewing Company

Are there any you would add to the list? Let us know.

Is Your Beer Alive?

Now that unpasteurized beer has been explained to you, you’re probably ready to go out and see if you can find any at the local taproom. Don’t be surprised if there is more live beer available than you originally thought! With more flavor and health benefits than pasteurized beer, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be raising your mug to this kind of beer.

what is Unpasteurized Beer

FAQs About Unpasteurized Beer

Can unpasteurized beer make you sick?

No, as long as you don’t drink foul, expired beer, unpasteurized beer cannot make you sick. This means that there is live yeast in the bottle. There are no known health risks to drinking this kind of beer. In fact, some people say that drinking unpasteurized beer is kind of like drinking kombucha for probiotics. However, it is way more fun and satisfying to drink.

How long will unpasteurized beer last?

Unpasteurized beer typically lasts for 120-180 days from the packaging date, but it must remain in the fridge in order for it to stay good that long. Some brands will go bad within 2 months.

What does unpasteurized beer mean?

It’s a beer that hasn’t gone through the pasteurization process. This means that the bottles weren’t heated to kill off any microorganisms. Unpasteurized beer often tastes better than pasteurized beer for this reason.

Is Peroni beer pasteurized?

Birra Peroni has released many beers. Most of them are certainly pasteurized, as there is no indication otherwise on the labeling. One of their beers, Birra Peroni Cruda, is believed to be unpasteurized (non-pastorizzata) and unfiltered, but there is no official statement verifying this.