Warm beer isn’t typically something people seek out in the year 2018, when some packaging even comes equipped with special color-changing mountains to let you know just how cold your lager will be. But if you’ve enjoyed mulled wine or a hot toddy, you probably know that heat can do magical things to a beverage. When employed strategically, anyway. Don’t go leaving your pilsner out in the summer sun and expect an improvement.
Casual Panache, Inc., a company that has launched a blow-dry hairbrush, a line of gift wrap embellishments and a hairstyling comb for zigzag parts, debuted their latest product, the Beer Caramelizer, this spring. It’s a curious invention with an even more curiously niche audience: If you occupy the tiny sliver of Venn diagram between “people who enjoy warm beer” and “people who spend time around campfires or fireplaces while drinking said warm beer.”
While the Beer Caramelizer is new to the market, the idea of using a metal rod to heat beverages is not new at all. It’s called a loggerhead, and back in the day, pubs would stick it into the embers of their fireplaces and use the hot metal to warm up flips and toddies. Cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anastasia Miller wrote that bar owners would even use it to cauterize wounds (presumably those sustained from barroom brawls).
Modern iterations exist, too. Dave Arnold’s experimental New York cocktail bar, Booker & Dax, famously employed their 1,500-degree “red hot poker” to caramelize sugars in cocktails, and Portland bartender Jacob Grier has used a similar device to make a traditional Colonial-era Flip. The Beer Caramelizer is, essentially, a modern take on that: A stainless steel rod you heat over open flames until the tip glows red, then plunge it into your beer. It’s pretty much identical to the rods found in 19th century pubs, only this version has a wooden handle reminiscent of a beer tap—or perhaps a…hairbrush—and retails for $29.99. Interestingly, it’s not the only loggerhead revival to hit the market recently, either.
There’s merit to the idea of using heat not only to warm a beer, but also to fundamentally change the flavor. Cooking the sugar in this way causes the molecules to break down and release those deep, nutty flavors you find in creme brulee and, you know, caramel. But will those flavors enhance the beer, or detract from it? Depends on the beer—though the Beer Caramelizer’s catchy tagline is “Throw another lager on the fire!”, I suspect you probably wouldn’t want to use something as crisp and clean as a lager or pilsner with this thing (especially a pilsner, as heat tends to really enhance bitter notes). A chocolate stout, nutty brown ale, or oaky bourbon barrel-aged stout, on the other hand, have flavor profiles that seem potentially well-suited to take on notes of butterscotch and toffee. Just to be sure, I decided to try all of the above.
In my modest but steadily burning campfire, the Caramelizer took about twenty or thirty minutes to heat up (you can tell it’s ready when the stainless steel tip glows red). After burying it under some embers and patiently waiting, I finally pulled the glowing rod out and plunked it down into a glass of Rogue Chocolate Stout. Per the instructions on the Beer Caramelizer’s box, which promise an interesting “ex-beer-ience,” I only left it in the beer for two to three seconds—enough for the heat of the Caramelizer to produce a foamy head on the beer, but not enough to actually heat the beer up. Consequently, you’re left with a beer that sort of embodies the worst of both worlds: Neither cold nor hot, just lukewarm with less carbonation and more bitterness. I tried my luck with Samuel Smith’s nut brown ale, thinking the nuttiness might be a good match for warm caramel notes, but found the same results: A beer that was just a tiny bit less tasty than the original.
Per the Caramelizer’s packaging tagline, I decided it was only fair to test out a lager, too. Sticking a red-hot iron rod into my pint glass of Yuengling took everything enjoyable about a simple, refreshing lager and murdered it dead: no more crisp carbonation, no more refreshing cool taste, and a lot more bitterness.
When I decided to go rogue and ignore the instructions’ advice on timing, I left the rod in another pint glass of chocolate stout for closer to ten or fifteen seconds. The results were slightly less disappointing, producing a warm, thick foam atop a beer with more of a melted milkshake consistency—no carbonation at all, but perhaps a touch more depth of flavor. Or maybe I just really wanted it to work. I could see how the steel rod could prove useful for hot toddies and warm punches, just as the loggerhead was also used for in the good old days, if you had some serious leisure time in between drinks. In fact, I would’ve continued “ex-beer-imenting,” per the packaging’s encouragement, but between each beer, it takes the Caramelizer another ten to twenty minutes buried in a pile of glowing embers to heat back up. And even when beers and campfires are involved, I have a bedtime.
At $29.99 for a piece of metal attached to a wooden handle that serves a very niche purpose and specific audience, I’m not sure who would find the Beer Caramelizer a worthwhile purchase. There are piping-hot beer drinks and toddies, and there’s an ice-cold lager, but in my view, there’s not a lot of room in between. And, personally, while I’m certainly not opposed to warm drinks, nothing beats the contrast of an ice-cold session beer when I’m sitting next to a blazing hot campfire. To the Beer Caramelizer’s credit, I can see how this could at least be a fun toy to whip out at a social gathering; the glowing-hot red metal, combined with the sizzle and froth of the beer, make for pretty good theatrics. At the same time, I can also see a 1,000-degree metal rod becoming potentially hazardous to wield after a few pints. At the very least, you can use the packaging to keep your fire going.