What does an IPA served at 54F, a Belgian dubbel at 57F, a Milk Stout at 48F, and a Wit at 39F all have in common? They were all served at the correct temperature! Ok, I know that was not the best joke, but it really wasn’t intended to make you laugh, but rather to think about your beer’s temperature.
Like pretty much any other beverage, all beers have a preferred serving temperature based on their style, purpose, ingredients and mouthfeel, among other things. This is because every beer is designed to accomplish something very specific, and that specific quality can be enhanced or ruined depending on the temperature at which you drink it.
So lets examine how temperature can affect your beer, and why it is really such a big deal.
Nothing affects the beer more than the temperature at which it is served. Everything from flavor, aroma, texture, carbonation, head retention and even color can change depending on what temperature your beer arrives in the glass at.
Probably the biggest misconception about beer temperature is that all beer should be served ice cold. This is of course because of the massive barrage of advertising from the likes of Coor’s, Budweiser, Miller and other commodity grade beer producers who claim that their beer is cold filtered, comes from the coldest water on the planet, or is so cold that when you drink it women will dance in bikinis around you… Yes, that makes plenty of sense doesn’t it?…
But why do they promote cold in the first place? Lets consider what cold beverages do to your palate and ability to sense flavor. Its relatively simple, cold drinks cool you down, help refresh your palate, and also begin to numb your ability to taste. The colder any liquid is, the less flavor you will absorb from it. For example, a real iced coffee (not a sugar added iced coffee) is exceptionally refreshing and quite delicious, however a hot coffee is significantly more potent and displays much stronger and more complex flavors and aromas. In this case, iced coffee and hot coffee have two different purposes, and they both serve them very well.
In reality, many beverages should be served ice cold; like ice water, iced tea, lemonade, pop, and commodity grade beer. Drinks like pop and lemonade are great when they are very cold because they are extremely refreshing, and have a very one sided flavor which will not be muted by the cold. But once you begin to serve beverages at a cold temperature that are meant to have flavor, you begin to loose their unique characteristics. Besides, what is “ice cold taste” anyways?
Then it becomes obvious why the big guys want their beer served ice cold, because their purpose is to serve a beer with as little flavor as possible – they know that unique flavors may throw off a specific group of potential clients, and thus reduce revenues. So not only will they brew their beer with rice and corn to reduce flavor, they will also ensure that you numb your palate by drinking it as cold as possible so you absorb even less flavor.
When we get into the realm of real beer and real flavor, this is absolutely not the case. Suggested serving temperatures exist so that the beer drinker can enjoy their beer at a temperature which best exemplifies the flavors it has. Because there are so many different beer styles available,each having its own purpose, understanding serving temperature can go a long way in your quest for enjoying great beer and amazing flavor.
Take a look at the Temperature Guide to see what styles of beer should be served at what temperatures for ultimate enjoyment.