With beer, colder is not always better

She was served a 34° F Old Rasputin

A certain unnamed local publication recently put out an article that detailed their quest to find the coldest beer in town. The writer(s) floated around to 40+ bars in the area and simultaneously drifted down the thermostat from a 46.1° F Guinness to a 30.1° F Bud Light (congratulations to Kelly's in Westport for...winning?). While I certainly appreciate a cool drink on a hot day in the summer, articles like this rub me the wrong way because they perpetuate the idea that when it comes to beer, colder is always better. And while those of us who know our way around a snifter are aware that many styles are best highlighted by warmer temperatures, people who are just starting to expand their beer tasting horizons may not be getting an ideal experience with frosty shaker pints of Imperial Stout. Time for some counter-miseducation.

The fact is, the only beer you ever want to drink at a near-freezing or super cold temperature is beer that you don't want to taste. Boulevard Brewing Company's Field Quality/Training Manager and Master Cicerone Neil Witte agrees. I reached out to Neil to pick his brain on the subject of beer temperature and how it translates to beer that is served at bars. To start with, here's a quick guide on what temperature ranges are most appropriate for different styles:

40 - 45° F
Best for lighter flavored beers with lighter roasted malts, including styles such as:

Golden Ale
Wheat Beers/Hefeweizen

45 - 50° F
Best for beers with higher flavor intensity and more character malts, including styles such as:

Pale Ale

50 - 55° F (aka 'Cellar Temperature')
Best for beers with bigger flavors and darker malts, including styles such as:

Belgian Quads

55° F +
Some of the styles listed in the Cellar Temperature range are best at a temperature even warmer than 55° F, especially if they contain a significantly higher ABV (although high ABV is not always an indicator that a beer should be consumed at a warmer temperature) or especially strong flavor profiles.

But, of course, not all of us carry around pocket thermometers when we go drinking, so how can you translate this information when you are out at a bar? Witte, who does a considerable amount of work around town with bar draught systems, says that he constantly recommends that keg coolers be kept at 38° F. He notes that consistent temperatures are key in ensuring that beer doesn't foam on tap, and since most bars don't have the capability to customize temperatures for each line, this is a safe one-size-fits-all temperature. By the time this beer travels through lines, is poured into a glass, and arrives in front of you, it has likely warmed up to somewhere in the low 40's.

Obviously, the article from the Publication-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named showed that there are plenty of bars around town that are seemingly cranking down their cooler temperatures and slanging frosted glasses to appease the desires for cold beer. But now, using that resource for typical bar pouring temperatures, and supplementing with this guide to the actual temperature at which you'd probably want to drink a certain beer style, you can have a better idea of when that glass might need a few minutes of warm loving from your hands before you dive in.

So go forth and seek a patio this summer. And if you order that Doppelbock, don't be afraid to let the sun work a little magic on it. Because when it comes to beer, colder does NOT always equal better.

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