Break It Down: How Cold Should My Beer Be?

October 2013

Think you know beer? Pop quiz: What degree should beer be served at, and why?

The answer is, perhaps, more complicated than you think. Here, a breakdown of the relationship between brews and their climate thanks to the expertise of Julia Herz, the craft beer program director of the Brewers Association

BREAK IT DOWN

The Golden Rule: A standard rule is that macro lagers and mass domestics, like Coors, should be enjoyed at 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a tidbit most bartenders and brewers know, but isn’t common knowledge. If you have a Bud or Coors in hand, you’re probably enjoying it for refreshment—not supreme taste—and the coldness helps by restricting the tongue’s taste buds. Watch out, though: When you order a draft at most restaurants, it’s likely that the keg is kept at 38 degrees regardless of the brew. It’s standard practice, but it doesn't always display a craft beer’s taste and quality.

Study Hall: Currently, there are 142 documented beer styles and each has an average range of alcohol percentages. Typically, the higher the alcohol, the warmer the desirable drinking temperature is. For example, a pilsner or blonde ale should be served at 45 to 50 degrees, while a porter or scotch ale should be enjoyed at 50 to 55 degrees, according to the Brewers Association. (Bonus: See their chart of beer styles, including pairings, serving temperatures and descriptions here.)

But why? Think of carbonation as an ingredient in beer (which it is). The warmer a beer is, all the way to about 55 degrees, the more CO2 is released from it. The CO2 that is released will carry “aromatic compounds” (malt, hops, and yeast) from the brew up to the nose to give you a better sense of what it tastes like.

If a brew goes above 55 degrees, CO2 elapses and the beer will taste flat and lifeless. Even a cask-conditioned ale, which is typically served at room temperature, still has a little CO2 and will taste terrible if served too warm.

Agitate Things: Looking to get the most of your micro? Swirling the beer helps temperature rise and agitates the beverage, causes more CO2 to blow out (somewhat similar to aerating wine). It’s a practice that Herz adopted years ago. “Carbonation is an amazing attribute, but I don’t want to fill up from it,” Herz says.

Old School: Three variables influence the temperature a beer is served at: tradition, practice, and personal preference. Many countries traditionally serve their beer at room temperature, and, of course, just because a beer should be sipped at a certain temperature, doesn’t mean the drinker prefers it that way.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock