The following is an excerpt from Ben Robinson's book Beer Hacks. Hear Robinson's creative workarounds for when you find yourself a legit bottle opener and his suggested glassware for specific serving temperatures in his Splendid Table Selects interview with Sally Swift.
Every beer drinker has been in the Worst of All Situations: coming home after a long, hard day at the quarry and realizing that (1) you really need to get a cushier job, and worse, (2) the fridge is empty and all the beer in the house is every bit as warm as the freshly used multiblade gang saw from back down at the quarry.
This generally leaves two options: drinking that beer warm, or drinking zero beer at all. So, actually, one option. But luckily for warm-beer-havers everywhere, there are a raft of truly innovative night-saving means by which to get your beer ice-cold in just minutes—or even less time, depending on what you’ve got available.
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The Wet Rag + the Freezer Method
Let’s start with the lowest-effort approach.
Cold beer ETA: 7 to 10 minutes
Grab your least-gross rag, get it good and wet with cold water, then wring out the excess. The idea is that you want the water to freeze around the beer as quickly as possible. So, if it’s oversaturated, that’s going to be tough. Paper towels can work if you’re in a ragless pinch, but really, a rag or dish towel or even an actual towel is what you want here.
Once it’s prepped, grab your beer and wrap it up, going once around the can or bottle with the rag/towel, or a few spins with the paper towels. Then just toss the beer in the freezer (if you can rest it on a tray or bag of ice, all the better), close the door (crucial step!), and set your stopwatch for 7 minutes (although if your freezer is crammed, it may take 10). A standard 12-ounce can or bottle may not even take that long, and that time parameter should get a 22-ounce bomber decently chilled as well.
When the time’s up, your towel should be frozen somewhat solid and want desperately to stay attached to the bottle. But you, beer-deprived as you may be, will be able to summon the strength to rip it off and reveal a wonderful beer chilled to appropriate enjoyment temperatures.
One big word of warning: No matter the circumstances, do NOT leave your beer in the freezer for longer than 20 minutes or so. For one, it will freeze like so many Otter Pops before it, and for two, it’s impossible to drink beers through freezer doors.
Ben Robinson Photo: Kaitlyn Flanagan
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The Spin It in a Bucket Full of Ice + Salt Method
Yes, your hand is going to get cold with this one.
Cold beer ETA: 3 minutes
All you need for this is water; a bowl, bucket, beer pitcher, or other fairly large receptacle to put that water in; enough salt to make all the slugs in your neighborhood uncomfortable; and a hand that likes to spin things/doesn’t mind getting a little cold. (Note: This is great for hotels, which often don’t have a fridge but do have all the rest of these things, especially if you’re bold enough to ask for a hundred salt packets from room service.)
If you remember ninth-grade chemistry class, you’ll remember that protons have a positive charge, electrons have a negative one, and the emergency eye wash is completely hilarious to trick people into drinking water out of. You may or may not also recall the principles behind boiling point elevation/freezing point depression.
The technical definition involves entropy and thermodynamics, sooo . . . let’s skip all that and say: If you put salt into water, it makes the temperature at which the water freezes go way down. So, if you put salt into water and ice, it causes the ice to melt, making the whole bath significantly colder than ice plus water minus salt. Which makes your beer cold, if you put it in. It’s the same exact set of principles that make antifreeze work, but since you’ll be drinking the beer, maybe don’t think about that.
There are a couple of key moves to keep in mind here. First, you’re not using a pinch of salt; you need a lot. Like, cups of the stuff. Literal cups! Just dump it in and stir, then add as much ice as you can find. The next is that once it goes into the bath, you need to spin the bottle or can round and round as much as possible, which will accelerate the cooling process and make your hand remarkably cold (you will be a much happier/less frostbitten beer drinker if you do this with a bottle instead of a can, so you can grab and spin the neck outside the ice bath). But that just means it’s working, right? Three minutes of spinning should get your beer exactly where you want it.
Beer Hacks by Ben Robinson
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The Fire Extinguisher Method
It may not be the most cost-efficient approach, but blasting your beer with a fire extinguisher will certainly get it good and cold.
ETA: 20 to 30 seconds.
The most important thing: You need a carbon dioxide extinguisher, not a monoammonium phosphate version. It works by starving a fire of oxygen, but that same overabundance of CO2 also makes things very, very chilly. This hack is dead simple. You just put the beer in a bucket so it stays in one place (also, holding it would likely prove to be unwise), trigger the fire extinguisher in quick, repeating 1- to-2-second blasts at the beer, quickly rinse it off, and drink. Twenty to 30 seconds should do it, depending on the size of the beer. All CO2 extinguishers have a “horn” from which the discharge emits, but some have one that’s large enough to rest a beer snugly inside. If yours does, definitely do that, as the gas will contact the beer more directly and speed up the cooling process. Also . . . do this outside. You’ll see why.
Just remember to recharge the fire extinguisher, in case there’s an actual fire, and to put your beers in the fridge more promptly in the future, so you don’t have to keep recharging fire extinguishers.
Important note: Fire extinguishers are simple to use correctly and safely, but if you’re not doing that, they can be pretty damn dangerous. The main rules are: (1) Don’t discharge the extinguisher toward your body or anyone else’s; (2) Be sure you’re using it in a highly ventilated area (like outside, as recommended!); and (3) Never, ever look into the horn, even if you’re not using it.