The importance of beer and serving temperature.
As we debate the merits of barrel aging, hop varieties and “mouthfeel”, I think it’s time we explored the importance of a beer’s serving temperature. It’s a critical factor and yet oddly enough, when a beer is served at the correct temp nobody seems to notice, whereas beers served at the wrong temp just can’t be forgotten.
From my personal experience;
I was in Indiana for a business dinner last year and was served an otherwise wonderful Scotch Ale that had been refrigerated at some sub-arctic cryogenic temperature. It was almost frozen (worse, it was served in a giant frosted mug that leaked). The subtle malty earthy notes from that beautiful beer could not be enjoyed on my frozen palate. It was essentially an expensive Budweiser. On the other extreme, I’ve ordered IPAs that arrived at my table just a few degrees colder than room temperature.
Temperature is important. The chill can add some sparkle and zip to a clean lager while some emerging warmth will open up a stout.
Suggested Beer Serving Temps;
Lagers: 38-44° F
Ales: 45-55° F
This is very broad-based as beer temp is also dictated by the style of beer. The strong, dark ales tend to be on the warmer side. The light, hopped and lagers tend to be colder. It all comes down to personal preference too. I have a friend that firmly believes a heavy stout should be served cold but should be allowed to gradually warm up. The process of slowly warming up, opens up the beer.
For my bar it’s all about control. I allow my beers that are aging to do so at cellar temperatures that fluctuate throughout the year. The seasonal change is perfectly fine for a beer that will sit for 3-5 years. Not so much if you want to grab a warmish barley wine in July. What to do! I have a fridge for the super cold beverages (pop for the kids and macro brews) and a digitally controlled beer fridge reserved for my favorites. It has a bit of everything in it now but I have plans to move just the stouts, porters and heavy Imperials just so I can raise the temp in it. For me, heavy beers just seem perfect at the 38-48° range. Granted this betrays the guidelines listed above but my personal preference just falls slightly more on the cooler side.
My Personal Beer Temperatures
Cellar: Varies from 50-60° F Beer (aging) wine
Fridge: 36° F Pop, macro brews
Beer Fridge: 38° F Dark, heavy, Imperials
I’ve been toying with the beer fridge (NewAir ABR-960B) and will probably target something a bit warmer. This model allows me to adjust the shelves to accommodate both cans, bottles and bombers. This flexibility has gotten me to rethink what I want to put in it. Adding some Belgian style beers may beg for a warmer temp.
My personal lesson is that there is some flexibility with the serving temperature but it does require some thought. The extremes will not support a good beer experience. Let me know what you’re doing. I’d love to hear from you.