Chill a Mountain of Beer in Minutes, the Bartender’s Way

One summer at the peak of wedding season, a bartender friend showed us his super-slick technique for reducing a tower of cased beer to a huddled mass of near-frozen bottles. The sun had a cruel slant at 5 p.m., a time they call “evening” in the South. Two boys in dress shoes ran six-packs of IPA across the lawn four at a time, and the bride was already walking. With less than half an hour till the bar opened, 99 bottles of beer on the lawn, and then another 99, plus 50 pounds of ice, slid into a marine cooler like piano keys descending a scale. Sure enough, that first bottle emerged in a corona of steam.

Before we show you how to pull this off, a note. It is admittedly January. That February 1 Katy Perry concert broadcast notwithstanding, we’re unlikely to be setting up a bar outdoors. Nor are we able to replicate Southern wedding conditions at this time. We can, however, demonstrate the packing technique—here, scaled for a small bar.

  1. Start with a squeaky-clean lidded cooler. Lay longnecks in one direction the length of the cooler floor. Now lay down a row on top of them facing the opposite direction. Fill any remaining space to that height with dovetailing bottles.

    Beer bottles in opposite-facing rows in a cooler

    Lay those bad boys in opposite-facing rows.

  2. Lay down a layer of ice equal to the depth occupied by the beer.
  3. Beer under ice in a cooler

    The first layer of ice goes close to the bottom of the cooler.

  4. Lay down layers of longnecks just as you have in Step 1, leaving room at the top for any cans or other differently-packaged beverages plus several pounds of ice.
  5. Pour several pounds of ice to the brim of the cooler. Throw a couple of handfuls of rock salt over the ice if you want to accelerate chilling and plan to hand-dry each drink as you serve it. Close the lid till you open the bar and keep it closed as much as possible during service.

In a 60-quart “cube” cooler with about 10 pounds of ice, 48 American longneck ISBs reached “very cold” (approximately 40 degrees) in less than half an hour. That’s a quick, if not breathtaking, chill. But other advantages are apparent, even on this scale. Compare this method to the tub-on-the-bar presentation, for starters.

  • – To store this many bottles vertically, you would have to turn some upside down and risk shaking the beer.
  • – Guests aren’t tempted to grab their own—unless you invite them to.
  • – Bottles and cans are kept out of direct sunlight, which can turn even cool beer, and especially beer in clear bottles, skunky.
  • – Floating labels and their unmoored mystery drinks are kept to a minimum.
  • – It looks awesome.

The real efficiencies prove out at tightly scheduled special events where you need a single storage and service point for a crowd of 100 or more. In that case, you’ll want to place a sample bottle or can of each beverage in your offering on the bar. Then sort the beverages as you load them into the ice chest so that servers can quickly lay hands on each selection.

Depending on local regulations, you may be able to return unopened bottles, so save the packaging as you load the beverages in. Have clean bar towels handy for drying leftover cold ones on their way back to their boxes. And keep those two boys in dress shoes handy for load-out.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing.