In the last several months I’ve written about beer, the proper glasses to use and matching it to food. In the interim, several readers have contacted me inquiring about proper serving temperatures. Perhaps it’s the warmer weather or simply interest in this amazing beverage that has sparked this, but it’s definitely worth addressing.
Contrary to popular belief – and especially contrary to advertising – beer does not have to be served ice cold (near frozen) to be appreciated. Many marketing campaigns by large, commercial breweries utilize this “serve icy cold” concept to promote their brews with somewhat little regard for taste. Plain and simple, if beer is too cold, there is less carbonation (which provides aroma) so the nose is dulled and you’ll pick up little complexity. It will also numb the palate and tongue and any real flavour will be void. Sure, it’s thirst quenching, but for the amount of aromatics and flavour obtained, you could easily be slugging any other “cold refresher” like soda, juice, lemonade or iced tea instead.
This marketing concept is reinforced not only by producers, but at sporting events, outdoor summer festivities, etc. In the hot weather, most bars and pubs serve their beer colder to beat the heat, as seasonal temperatures can warm a brew up pretty quickly. Beer refrigeration units in bars, restaurants and pubs in North America are usually set to around 4°C. While a beer at this temperature will warm up slightly if poured into a thin-shelled glass, it’s probably initially too cold to show its stuff.
Other brews like English ales are said to be best served at “room temperature” or “warm.” Room temperature is considered to be around 21°C, which is way too warm – the alcohol will dominate the nose and palate. What is meant here is “cellar temperature,” around 12 to 14°C.
Generally speaking, lighter coloured, lighter bodied and lower alcohol beers are best served colder, while bigger, richer, stronger brews should be warmer; everything else, somewhere in the middle.
Beers that should be served “very cold” (around 3°C) are basically ones that aren’t complex and don’t possess a lot of character. Their purpose is strictly to refresh and wash down food. I’m talking about light beers, pale lagers and many mass-produced North American products.
Those that fall in the category of “cold” serves (around 5°C.) are German pilsners, premium lager, Belgian white, sweetened fruit lambics and light ales.
Standard ales, amber ale and lager, dark lager, porter, stout, unsweetened fruit lambics, Belgian ale and Irish ale, for example, should be presented “cool” (around 8°C) for best results.
“Cellar-temperature” (around 12 to 13°C) brews include richly-flavoured, very malty and highly alcoholic styles like brown ale, English strong ale, Belgian strong ale, bock, Scottish ale, English pale ale and bitter. There are even some beers like imperial stout, double IPA and doppelbock that are served warmish at around 14°C.
Keep in mind that your refrigerator at home is usually set to one temperature so gauging your brew’s ideal serving temperature is difficult. Most home refrigerators are kept colder so it’s much easier to bring a beer out of the fridge and let it come up to ideal serving temperature than it is to cool it down to its ideal.
When it comes right down to it, though, serving temperatures of different brews are strictly individual preference. Some folks simply like their brews colder while others prefer them warmer.
The best way to find out at what temperature your favourite brew works best at and you prefer is through experimentation. Try serving the same beer at different temperatures. For consistency, make sure you utilize the same style of glass at room temperature and pour the same amount into each glass. Note the carbonation, nose and taste. By doing this, you’ll definitely discover which serving temperature works best for you.
Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator and judge
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