Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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.


  1. The Pitch's beer article made me chuckle a little. People are coming around to craft beer, but many people still perpetuate these silly BMC myths.

  2. I think the Pitch (why are they a "certain unnamed publication" and "publication who shall not be named"?) was just doing a fun summery bar roundup, as opposed to making a serious case that colder is better. Also, when it's hot as shit outside, sometimes you DO want a really cold beer, and you don't really care about whether the Pilsner you're drinking should be served at 40 degrees or 50 degrees.

  3. @Reader

    1) If they wanted to do a fun bar roundup, then why even bother with the coldest beer, portable thermometer gimmick? They even blatantly announce in their article that they ripped the idea off from another pub that did it and discovered beer as cold as 27 degrees. I think Ink did a nice job with their Spring bar guide:

    2) As I said in the beginning, I appreciate a cold drink (whether it be beer or something else) on a hot day. And as I also said, this is merely to serve as education for people who read articles like that, don't know better, and think that beer should always be super cold. Some amazing flavors can develop when certain beers warm up.

    3) Just having fun with the names.

  4. "And if you order that Doppelbock, don't be afraid to let the sun work a little magic on it."

    I hope this is a joke.

  5. It's a joke in that I don't actually expect people to hold their glass up into the rays of the sun.

    It's not a joke in that a Doppelbock probably isn't at an ideal state for drinking if it's served to you at 36 degrees, and would taste best when warmed up a little.

  6. Congrats to Kelly's on being the best BMC beer "taste masker" in town. Thanks for keeping those beers cold as they can get so that no one can detect the nasty flavors hidden within them. But if we want to be taken as a serious craft beer town, we need educated journalism when it comes to these publications & their beer articles.
    Wish we could also get some better serving temps at bars that serve these fine craft beers as well. Not sure why they can't have a draft system set up where the beers poor closer to 46-50 degrees or have a 2nd tap system set up for BMC to pour around 35. It is almost a night/day diff in taste. Get a Deschutes Abyss served to you at 35 & drink it. Then let the other set on the table for 20-25 minutes & drink it. MUCH better better with many more flavors coming out. Same with imperial/2X IPAs.

  7. I'd just be happy to find a bar that actually cleans its tap lines and doesn't under carb or overcarb the kegs. The temp I can manage. Their lack of attention to safety and cleanliness I cannot.