In the world of wine, it is well known that white wines are usually chilled and reds are normally served at cellar temperature. But, in the world beer, the question of serving temperature can be much more complex. Sure the mass-produced brands such as Bud, Miller, and Coors taste just fine ice-cold, but if your beer-drinking tastes run to the better craft and import brews, you might want to think twice about how cold you drink them.
Beer serving temperature is a hotly debated issue. It seems that everyone is an expert and no one really knows for sure which beer should be drunk at what temperature. To make matters even more confusing, some brewers are creating beers to specifically cater to those who want something very cold. And the mass-producers are adding gimmicky can and bottle temperature gauges to their products to ensure the “perfect beer experience.”
Heineken introduced a version of their popular lager called Heineken Extra Cold in European markets a few years ago to address the demand for colder beers. The brew is dispensed from a special tapper with refrigeration units in it to cool the beer to 32 degrees. Indeed the exterior of the tapper is encased in a thick layer of frost to add to the Extra Cold experience. When I toured the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam in March of this year, I had an opportunity to try this version and found it to be quite refreshing. But, I could not help to wonder what was different about it other than the temperature. I struck up a conversation with one of the barmaids and was amused to find out that the only difference in the beer was the temperature. It is the exact same beer, only served colder. In other words, it is pure marketing. Similarly, Guinness produces a version of its popular stout in an Extra Cold version as well.
But, serving a beer too cold is actually detrimental to enjoying the beer itself. Sure, icing a beer down to near freezing makes it easier to drink and is quite refreshing. But, what you gain in quaffability you lose in taste. You see the colder something gets the less your taste buds will actually be able to taste.
In a study published in the scientific journal Nature, microscopic channels in our taste buds were revealed to be responsible for the difference in how things taste at different temperatures. These channels react to the temperature of food and cause more intense taste sensations when something is consumed above the appropriate serving temperature. Take the example of a frozen Coke, when consumed in its frozen state it tastes like a regular cook only much colder. But, when a frozen Coke melts and you drink it in its liquid state it is much sweeter than a canned Coke from the vending machine. With beer, the bitterness is suppressed and all you get is the cold, slightly sweet sensation.
Bitterness and maltiness though, are much of what makes beer beer. By serving beer too cold you rob yourself of the pleasures to be had when you note a particularly hoppy brew with a fine malt backbone. You miss the subtleties of flavor the brewer imparted in the beer by adding the hops at a particular moment during brewing and then removed them at precisely the right time. You miss the citrus and piney flavors of the hops and the sweet caramel notes imparted by the hops.
The style of beer determines the temperature at which it should be served. Generally the darker the beer the warmer it should be served. Conversely, the lighter the beer the colder it should be served, but not always, and not too cold.
Below is a listing of the temperature range different style of beer should be served at. While it is not Gospel, and you certainly can make adjustments for your own tastes, it is the recommended temperatures for you to derive the absolute most pleasure and taste from your beer.
39-45°F is best for hefeweizens, premium lagers, pilsners, fruity beers, golden ales, weissbiers, Belgian whites and sweetened lambics.
Examples of these beers include: Paulaner Hefeweizen, Warsteiner, Stella Artois, and Rogue Oregon Golden Ale.
45-54°F is the optimum temperature for American pale ales, amber/red ales, hefeweizen dunkels, stouts, porters, Belgian ales, schwarzbiers, Irish ales, unsweetened lambics and helles bocks.
Examples of these beers include: Guinness, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Leffe Blonde.
54-57°F, also known as “cellar” temperature, works best for bitters, brown ales, IPAs, English pale ales, saisons, sour ales, biere de garde, Belgian strong ales, dubbels, bocks, Scottish ales, scotch ales and Baltic porters.
Examples of these beers include: Harpoon IPA, Smuttynose Baltic Porter, and Westmalle Trappist Dubbel.
57-61°F is the temperature range that’s best for barleywines, qradrupels, imperial stouts and IPAs, doppelbocks and meads.
Examples of these beers include: Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, and Rabbit’s Foot Meadery Sweet Mead.
The reason most of the mass-producers want you to drink their beer so cold is because if it is ice-cold, you probably will not notice how really terrible it tastes. Try this experiment; let a mass-produced beer sit on the counter for a couple of hours and warm up. Once at room temperature, open it and drink. Taste good? Of course not! Now, buy yourself some good craft beer. Chill it to the proper drinking temperature for its style, then enjoy. Big difference, huh?
So, the next time someone says, “Let’s crack open a couple of cold ones.” You might want to keep in mind that beer, does not have to be ice-cold to be drinkable. It does however, need to be at the correct temperature for the style.
Until next time.
Long Live the Brewers!