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We all know the situation.

The party is about to begin, it's really hot outside and we forget to put the beer (or similar drink) into the fridge...

What is your way to chill beer really fast?

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Sanity-check folks: it doesn't have to be beer. Or a drink. There are countless reasons why you might want to cool something edible quickly, so think of one you feel is appropriate and mentally substitute that for "beer" when reading this. –  Shog9 Jul 16 '10 at 1:39
    
Thanks for all the knowledge in this question's replies; it helped me get a 1/6th keg of sam adams down to frosty in no time for my wedding reception! Much obliged all! –  mfg Aug 18 '10 at 17:44
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When in doubt, there's always liquid nitrogen! –  BobMcGee Jun 16 '12 at 2:23

10 Answers 10

up vote 52 down vote accepted

Use a salted ice-water bath. The water increases the contact and heat dissipation, and adding salt allows the temperature to go below freezing.

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Adding salt to an ice bath won't do much if the ice is only at freezing, will it? –  ceejayoz Jul 13 '10 at 15:49
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@ceejayoz: Adding salt lowers the freezing point of the water, so it actually allows the liquid temperature to drop below the freezing point. It's the same reason you put salt in the ice around an ice cream maker. –  Satanicpuppy Jul 13 '10 at 15:53
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+1 The Mythbusters confirmed this method too, in episode 29! (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) –  JYelton Jul 13 '10 at 15:59
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@ceejayoz: Actually, the ice is at the temperature of your freezer, which is well below freezing. The salt allows for the ice to melt at a lower temperature, giving the heat-transfer advantages of liquid water at or near the temperature of your freezer. –  kevins Jul 13 '10 at 16:07
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Some agitation in the water will help too. –  GalacticCowboy Jul 13 '10 at 17:12

The mythbusters actually did this one once, and their conclusion was that the best and easiest way was indeed to simply add some salt to the water.

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12  
actually as I recall the fastest way was to use a fire extinguisher, but it's expensive. Seriously! –  Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '10 at 11:27
    
What about liquid nitrogen? –  nicorellius Jul 15 '10 at 23:15
    
@nicorellius: the goal was to quickly bring it to a good drinking temperature, liquid nitrogen would just turn it into a solid block of beer. –  ManiacZX Jul 16 '10 at 1:03
    
@ManiacZX But who doesn't love beer popsicles? –  kevins Jul 16 '10 at 14:27
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RE: nitrogen - It would turn it into a solid block if you left it in too long. I dare to say if you dipped it quick enough it would work well... The thing I would be concerned with is breaking the glass because of the temp change... –  nicorellius Jul 16 '10 at 19:22
  1. Using a paper towel, wrap it around the bottle 2 or 3 times
  2. Gently wet the paper towel. You want it to be damp, but not soaking. Enough so that the paper sticks to the bottle, but not dripping.
  3. Place in the freezer for 5 - 7 mins.

I've used this for chilling wine and long necks.

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This works for cans of beer.

  • Make a pile of crushed ice
  • Lay the beer can on the ice on its side
  • Press the can into the ice so about 1/2 of the can is under the ice
  • Start spinning the can, it should spin freely on the ice
  • Continue spinning until the can is sufficiently cold

Using this method I can cool a beer that's been sitting out in the sun in under two minutes.

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What happens when you open the can of cold agitated beer? –  Tester101 Jul 16 '10 at 19:28
    
Since you're rotating it around its long axis the beer doesn't actually get agitated, the rotation provides just enough internal movement that the cold temperature is quickly spread throughout the liquid; similar to the way that a thin layer of water will freeze more quickly than a deep pool. –  jessecurry Jul 16 '10 at 20:17
    
You should go to DefCon (the hacker conference) and use this method in competition. –  It Grunt Aug 26 '10 at 14:13
    
is there a beer chilling contest? I think a DefCon entry would probably need to have a usb powered spinner. –  jessecurry Sep 1 '10 at 0:02

I agree with Kevin's salted ice-water bath, but I find chucking a few tinnies in the freezer works as well. Just remember to remove them on time or you're going to have a bit of a clean-up job.

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I did this once and it did .. not .. end well –  Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '10 at 11:27
    
@jeff - I know, I only do it early in the evening when there's some semblance of sobriety. But then I do have a cleaning lady who is paid well enough not to mind the mess. –  Kev Jul 14 '10 at 21:11
    
I did this (quite recently actually) with a glass beer bottle. :( It was quite impressive though - the liquid was evidently supercooled, so it flash-froze in a froth, embedded with glass shards. Looked like a freeze-frame of an explosion :) –  Joel in Gö Jul 15 '10 at 9:44

Here comes the science!

The Goal: Transfer heat from the warm object to the surrounding environment, as quickly as possible.

Theoretical concepts:

  1. Heat is transferred via the surface area (which is fixed in a beer can) But, we want as much of our heat sink in contact with the surface as possible. This suggests that a liquid is better than a solid. (as solids, such as crushed ice contains voids, which are insulators.) Keep in mind the square-cube ratio -- Volume varies as the cube, Surface area varies as the square. This means that small beers have a better SA:V ratio than large beers, and will cool faster.
  2. The rate of Heat transfer is related to the difference in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink. (Which is changing, as the source cools and the sink warms up).
  3. Phase change (Latent Heat of Fusion) allows a sink to absorb heat while staying at the same temperature.

Discussing point 3, the corollary is that when ice melts at 0 degrees C, it takes a whole lot of heat to break the crystal lattice and convert to liquid. This means that melting ice will "grab" heat out of the beer faster than solid ice warming up, or liquid water warming up.

So at this stage, what we want is ice mixed with water, just below the melting point. Add beer cans, and the beer will "suck the cold" out of the ice as it melts, bringing the entire system near to freezing fairly quickly. (in a matter of 10 -15 minutes).

Still not fast enough? Then we need to go to a different universe where the melting point of water is colder. (Or add salt to the water, which will lower the melting point, causing the whole reaction to occur at a lower temperature, giving us a speed boost as to Bullet #2.)

Still not fast enough? -- Well, if you've got liquid nitrogen on hand, you're over prepared for your unpreparedness. You could have just stuck the beers in the fridge.

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I throw my brew right into the ice cube reservoir in the ice-maker in my freezer. This way it sits in ice as well as is in the freezer at zero degrees. I apply this to champagne as well, and it actually works well.

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Wrap the beers in wet paper towels or wet rags and put in the freezer. Its really is quite effective and doesn't need salt or ice. This video shows what a difference it can make: http://youtu.be/Nf8rKvZWQrY

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A bit un-exciting but.
I usually put a bottle/can in the freezer and put a timer on 15 minutes.

Or, if it is really urgent, pour into a glass and add 3-4 ice cubes. Heresy, I know, but it creates something cool to drink fast.

/L

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You know what happens when you put a bunch of bottles in the freezer: inevitably one or two get forgotten and around three hours later someone finally remembers... –  Jedidja Jul 15 '10 at 23:33
    
I throw white wine in the deep freeze all the time. I then immediately set the timer on the stove as a reminder. –  Chris Cudmore Aug 10 '12 at 16:09

Water bath is best as suggested (I am not going to write that out again), but if you want to do it even faster then get the water moving around too.

A small pump that just pumps the water back in at an angle will do (I am thinking large fish tank one OR water fountain). A good whirl pool effect is fine if it is white wine but not so much as to fizz up the beer mind!

You should be abel to cool a whole case in just a few minutes.

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