The final word on beer serving temperature.

Sounds a bit arrogant, eh? Well, follow along and we’ll see if you disagree.

It seems like every week I run across some sort of discussion about what temperature to drink your beer at. These conversations usually involve some people (who are often fairly well educated in the various topics of beer) enlightening the beer n00bs of the best way to serve, pour, and drink various beers. This “best way” is most often dependent on the style of beer in question, with lagers being served colder than ales and other ideas like that. Well, I’m here to tell you that is a bunch of bollocks.

Now, don’t get me wrong: everyone who drinks or eats anything should know that volatile flavor compounds are more readily released and detected when the sample is warmer. The same with agitation: when you stir, swirl, swish, or chew your sample (be it solid or liquid) you’re allowing more volatiles to be released. Also, controlling serving temperature has great importance when conducting sensory experiments, not only for ensuring that all samples are treated in the same way, but also to maximize (or whatever the goal is) the chance of picking up certain flavors. These are all fundamental ideas in flavor science.

But beyond these considerations, my point is that once you are armed with that knowledge you should be free to enjoy your food or beverage in whatever way you like most. There are a number of instances where a beer will taste better when it is colder than it does after it warms, regardless of the style. I’ve experienced this many times, particularly when drinking beers from small microbreweries who may not have the control of quality parameters that larger breweries have. Some beers will be wonderful and defect free when drank below 40F, but after the beer warms in your glass some of the ugly defects that you didn’t notice earlier start to come out. Diacetyl is usually the culprit here, but it can be other flavors as well. Plenty of times I’ve opened a can of Heineken and poured it into a frosty glass and enjoyed the first half, but by the time I near the end of the glass oxidation flavors are starting to make themselves apparent and the beer becomes far less tasty. In these cases you almost NEED to drink the beer cold, regardless of whether it is an ale or a lager, just to enjoy it. Another reason I enjoy my beer colder is that it’s more drinkable and refreshing, and yes, I often like my ales drinkable and refreshing. Sometimes when flavors hide behind the coldness it can make the beer easier to drink. For example, beers that have higher alcohol and a lot of solvent-like flavors can be tamed when drank colder, while they can sometimes get more aggressive and unpleasant as they warm.

What might bother me the most about this serving temperature topic is when a pub will assume that this is the best temperature at which to serve their beer. Sure, it may be better for delineating the subtleties of the beer flavor, but what are those extra 10 degrees doing to the stability of the beer? It’s allowing the beer to oxidize and age that much faster, so while you may be trying to appreciate the beer now you are also making a poorer quality beer for the next pint.

What it boils down to is this: don’t tell me how to enjoy my beer. I know how and when to use serving temperature to achieve different goals, but when I am drinking beer because I just want to drink a beer, I will serve it at the temperature that I want it at, not what you think it should be. And I encourage you all to have the same mind set: if you like your IPA at 35F, that is your call and I won’t ever have a problem with it. I just hope you’re not under the impression that all the flavor you taste is all the flavor there is in that beer.

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10 responses to “The final word on beer serving temperature.

  1. Excellent! I tackled the serving temp topic a couple weeks ago, but was sure to cage it all as “personal preference” as well. After all, if enjoying craft beer is all about drinking what you like, you should drink WHAT you like HOW you like.

  2. Oops, I forgot to ask in this in the previous comment… I’m very curious about the speed at which beer oxidizes, and you mention “oxidation flavors” becoming evident in your Heine. Did those flavors develop in the time after the glass was poured, or was it a matter of the oxidation happening in production but the flavors not manifesting until the beer warmed up? Is a non-oxidized beer at-risk for developing oxidation off-flavors simply from sitting in a glass?

    • The latter is definitely the case. The only flavor that can develop “from nowhere” in the glass would probably be lightstruck, if it’s particularly sunny and you’re a slow drinker. The speed at which beer oxidizes has many influences: oxygen content, metal ion content, antioxidant potential, temperature, and many others. Temp and O2 are the biggest influences, so if it’s packaged well and stored cold oxidation develops slowly over the course of weeks and months.

  3. Top blog, love it. Sometimes a beer will let you know it needs popping in the fridge only after you’ve opened it and had a sniff/mouthful – frustrating but worthwhile.

  4. It definitely comes down to personally preference. I’ll just keep trying different temperatures and beers until I get it right. Thanks for the advice.
    Cheers!

  5. Erm brewed my own for years. Ales taste better at a warmer temperature than lagers because they use a different kind of yeast (top fermenting). Robin Marsden was a friend of mine he used to be the brewmaster for marsdens learned a lot from him. Beech and oak casks are what ales used to be left in to mature (wood) which imparts a multitude of subtle flavours into the beer. Ales and porters use barley that is cooked differently than lagers this also adds to the flavour. Its a bit like cooking toast. Some like it almost raw (lagers) some like it medium (bitters) and some like it almost burnt black (milds and porters). Lagers tend to use Saaz and Hallertaur hops (German) whereas ales use English varieties of hops such as fuggles or goldings. American beers use Cascade hops and also add fillers like rice and maize to their lagers which would not go down well with our german cousins who believe in “rein heits gebot (water hops and barley only) law of purity. Modern lagers use extracts of hops in liquid or pellet form (rather than real hops). Modern breweries recruit people with degrees in food science and look for chemists rather than brewmasters. The outcome is always the same. That is: pastuerised lager beer with a long shelf life in an aluminium or stainless steel cask. Frankly I am not surprised that it it tastes of oxidation soon after opening it and that rather obnoxious flavours come to the surface when the lager warms (chemical beer). One has to be grateful for the independant brewers of ale such as Samuel Smith,Sheperds Neame, Banks’s, Holdens and others who carry on the great tradition of real ale in this country. Lager was very aptly named after louts and the phrase lager lout was coined. Amen Bob Johnson BEd Design HNC Mechatronics.

    • Quit showing off. Your reply is barely relevant to the article and your information should be common knowledge to anyone passionate about beer. You are not special.

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  7. You’ve just about summed it up there. As a British homebrewer I like to drink my ales at 10oC. Il like my lagers at 5oC and my high gravity beers at 20oC. I don’t like to be told how any beer should be served and often frowed at when I order a bottle of Duvel and a pint glass half filled with hot water.
    Regards John

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