Serving Temperatures of Beer

This is too cold.

While slaving away at our job of drinking beer here at ArkansasBeerBlog, we tend to pay close attention to the small details.  Temperature is one of those details that is frequently overlooked here in The Natural State.  Simply put: serving temperature influences the experience we encounter with each beer. There is a constant battle between the level of refreshment in cold beer and the flavor of a beer that is cool. Before the development of modern refrigeration, most beers were served at cellar temperature (which equates to around 55°-60°F). Several factors led to the phenomenon of serving beer at cold temperatures, but the foundation of this trend was started by the large macrobrewers in the US (which we will refer to in this article as “Biff Tannen,” or just “Biff” for short), who have engrained in our minds that beer should be served ice cold. They go so far as to make us distrust our ice chests and our sense of touch by adding an on-can thermometer. They top this by making us think that the Rocky Mountains are blue. This ice-cold temperature trend is a blatant falsehood intended for beers with less than desirable flavor profiles, or lack thereof.  Also, mountains are purple and majestic and above fruited plains.

Biff Light: Here we uh-oh.

I’d like to go ahead and admit that although I’m somewhat of a beer geek, I do imbibe in a frosty Biff Light from time to time. These beers are, undoubtedly, always readily available and let’s say reliable to get from point A to point B without inconveniencing my taste buds with any flavor.  Also, sometimes it’s rude to refuse an offered Biff Light from a friend; the beer geek community is NOT one that resembles wine snobbery.   Yet the fact is our tongue’s taste receptors are greatly impeded by the sensation of coldness.  This is due to said coldness causing a numbing factor; which is generally a bad thing if you want to taste beer.  Biff Light, on the other hand, wants you to numb your tongue by drinking it ice cold – after all, have you ever had a warm Biff Light?  It tastes awful.

Let us not forget smell!  70-75% of taste comes from smell!  You may wonder why we go gaga for big fluffy heads on our beers – it literally increases the flavor.  When you have things iced down, this also decreases the smell, and therefore flavor.  Speaking subatomically and in Arkansas vernacular, cold makes those little flavor particles slow down, and heat makes ‘em speed up – so when them buggers are heated up, they’ll punch you in the face!  Do you want a flavor punch?  Hell yes.  So – have you ever smelled ice?  Not much smell.  Have you noticed the vivid smell of a beautiful forest after a 2 foot snow storm?  There are probably one or two distinct smells.  However, if you visited the same beautiful forest during the first warm day of spring, how many dozens of smells could you detect?

Biff says: Who needs smells? Yucky!

Ice cold temperatures do beer a great disservice. As previously discussed in our Cuvee des Trolls review, allowing a beer to warm can reveal more of the flavors and essences that can otherwise go unnoticed. These subtle nuances can often be more easily absorbed and appreciated at warmer temperatures.

As with Cuvee des Trolls, we’ll occasionally recommend serving temperatures within our reviews. The style of a beer can guide us to speculate at what temperature we should begin tasting, but the point a specific beer hits its sweet spot is based primarily on each individual beer. Experimentation is key in understanding these amazingly complex creations and let it be known that preferences will differ from person to person.

There are generally accepted guidelines for serving temperatures that we can also turn to as a loose guide. One of the most respected of these guidelines was established by the late beer author, Michael Jackson in his book Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion:
•    Well Chilled (45°F) – For pale lagers
•    Chilled (46°F) – For wheat beers
•    Lightly Chilled (48°F) – For dark lagers, altbiers, and German wheat lagers
•    Cellar Temperature (55°F) – For most British ales and Belgian specialty beers
•    Room Temperature (60°F) – For strong dark ales and barleywines

Non-contact thermometers are a great tool to determining serving temperatures of craft beer. We acknowledge that these are not always accessible. In these situations we suggest to remove these from the refrigerator and let them set for 10-15 minutes and let this be your starting point. Do yourself a favor and take your time while enjoying these beers. Allow the brewer’s story play out with each drink thereafter.

How do you drink your beer?  Check out the poll below:

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4 thoughts on “Serving Temperatures of Beer

  1. Rex says:

    I’m strictly an IPA guy at this point, and I keep my beer under the bed at room temp. This time of year, that’s already about cellar temp. (I like my bedroom cold!). During the warmer seasons, I don’t put beer in the fridge until the day I’m gonna drink it.

    I let it set out for 5 min. after I pour it up. I’m gonna get one of those thermometers and do some experimenting.

    One of the greatest things about IPAs is that the last sip is usually even better than the first, and that’s undoubtedly due to the increase in temp.

    Great info, y’all!

    1. arbeergeek says:

      Great info Rex! IPAs are one of the best examples of really cold temperatures affecting the flavor. You taste/smell so many more hop flavors in an IPA if it’s at proper temperature. The thermometers are really fun, too; checking the temp of your beer, the banana next to it, your foot, and that burning candle.

  2. Ryan Keith Feero (@RyanFeero) says:

    Temperature has come up a lot in my recent beer discussions. I’m afraid I’m guilty of the Arkansas ignorance that has been purported by Biff. I’ve got a bottle of Hopsickle waiting for me in the fridge and I’ll definately try waiting 10-15 minutes before pouring. Any thermometer suggestions?

  3. arbeergeek says:

    Newegg has a pretty good deal right now:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16896268001

    It’s worth noting that we never do anything like take the thermometers out to a bar or use them at a party – but having one at home will get get you accustomed to the serving temps, and make your beer experience better! Look out flavor, here I come!

    Oh, it’s also worth noting (again) that letting a beer warm up is a big paradigm shift for the general beer drinking population. We are so trained to think ice cold is best… Last night I was trying to warm up a VERY cold beer, and one of my friends looked at me like I was crazy. But I am crazy – crazy for flavor!

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