Beer Serving Temperature: What’s Best for the Beer?

Posted by Barley Beaver on

The image of a frosty glass filled with ice-cold beer is deeply ingrained into our culture thanks to the endless ads created by Big Beer over the decades. The very concept of beer being a refreshing drink somehow implies that it has to be served cold, and bartenders all across the globe strive to do their best by chilling the beer to freezing temperatures before pouring it into the glass. But whether it’s correct to do so? Or is it just doing beer a disservice? Let’s find out!

First thing, let’s agree that the serving temperature really has an impact on flavour and aroma of any product, not just beer. Even when you eat an apple, a cold one taken straight from the fridge won’t be as flavourful as the one eaten at room temperature. Sure, it will be cold and refreshing. Yet the actual taste will be lost to the sensation of something cold in your mouth. Drinking an ice-cold beer is just the same, and you certainly won’t be able to appreciate the beer’s complex character if it is served really cold.

This is actually one of the loopholes uncrafty brewers use to hide the flaws in their beer. As long it is cold and fizzy, it’s hard to discern whether there are any traces of diacetyl, acetaldehyde or any other off-flavour compounds in the beer, which indicate that there are some serious problems in the process of beer production. Unfortunately, though, this practice has become so widespread, that it actually became a norm that modern craft brewers have set a goal to overcome in the past several decades. Serving ice-cold beer is not OK, and it’s doing both the beer and the drinker a disservice, since it’s hard to appreciate the full flavour of the drink when it’s served at nearly freezing temperature.

So what is the recommended temperature for serving beer in order to get the most out of its flavour? Well, this actually depends on the style, and here’s a little guideline to help you out:

  • Light Lagers and mass market beers: 35–40°F (2–4°C)
  • Hefeweizen, German Helles, Pilsner: 40–45°F (4–7°C)
  • Pale Ale, IPA, Amber Ale, Porter, Stout: 45–50°F (7–10°C)
  • Scotch Ale, Belgian Ale, Sour, Bock, English Ale: 50–55°F (10–13°C)
  • Imperial Stout, Barleywine, Doppelbock, Belgian Strong Ale, English Old Ale: 55–60°F (13–16°C)
As you can clearly see, with the exception of English Ales, which include ESBs, Milds, Bitters and Brown Ales, there’s a direct correlation between the beer’s ABV and optimal serving temperature. Higher gravity beers require higher serving temperatures to let them “open up” in the glass, while lighter beers benefit from colder serving to emphasize their refreshing character.

There’s definitely a certain logic to this correlation, since higher gravity beers tend to wield more aromatic compounds that require a higher temperature to evaporate from the glass. This relates to flavour compounds as well, as there’s definitely more flavour to a 10% ABV Belgian Quadruppel than to a 4.5% Czech Pilsner. And serving the former at 7°C and the latter at 13°C would definitely ruin the experience with both beers involved.

Of course, this is just a general guideline to help you get the most out of your beer. But if you want to drink your Hefeweizen warm or think that a colder Barleywine tastes less boozy - who are we to judge you? After all, the only thing that matters is the pleasure you get from drinking a glass of your favourite beer. But it’s definitely nice to have it served at a temperature most appropriate for its style.

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