Outdoor temperature and weather can be a real annoyance — both in the news and to your life — but it’s an important ingredient in enjoying beer. We’re not just talking about creating warmth through a boozy barleywine or kicking off your sandals with a light hefewiezen. We’re talking about physics and the temperature of the beer itself.
Glasses can affect the temperature of beer. Thicker glass actually makes a beer warmer faster because the glass itself pulls coldness away (convection: it’s science). But that plays on the assumption that you always want your beer to be cold. Not true.
Truth is, the colder a beer is, the less you’ll be able to taste. Howard Hillman’s “The New Kitchen Science” says that chilling beer below 60 degrees begins to reduce taste awareness, and reducing it below 50 degrees significantly masks a beer’s flavor.
You know it’s true when you look at the styles recommended to serve at the lowest temperatures — pale lagers, malt liquor, Canadian. These are typically beers you don’t want to taste in the first place. Ever wonder why breweries like MillerCoors constantly convince you to drink their beer cold? Ice-cold beer is refreshing and, oftentimes, pretty awesome. But it’s not something you worry about pairing with your beef bourguignon.
Yet, if you’re spending $8 on a 6-ounce pour of some Russian imperial stout, you want those aromas to be released. You want the warmth of the alcohol to be paired with a high (for beer) temperature of roughly 61 degrees.
Most places that sell those booze bombs are adept at adjusting the temperature to suit the style — at least to a point where it only take a minute or so to warm up. Our bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout have never been refrigerated — they just stay in our cool basement and are opened at that temperature.
So where do you draw the line? How do you know where your bock should be compared to your English bitter? Michael Jackson (no, not that one) created a five-level temperature scale for beers:
Well chilled (45 degrees): Light beers and pale lagers
Chilled (46 degrees): Wheat beers of all styles — from hefewizens to Belgian whites to Berliner Weisse
Lightly chilled (48 degrees): Pale ales, dark lagers, less-boozy stouts and a bunch of German lagers
Cellar (55 degrees): British ales, Saisons, Belgians
Room (60 degrees): Imperial stouts, barleywines, double/triple IPAs
Does it really matter? Depends on where you’re at. If you challenge me to distinguish between 45 degrees and 48 degrees, I’m not going to pretend I know. But I know when my Old Rasputin’s being served too cold, and I’m going to wrap my hands around it and cool it down.
Is it worth it? Yes. It takes one sip of a room temperature Russian imperial stout — the deep chocolates hit your nose, the burn of the alcohol coats your tongue, the warmth pulling you into a black hole — to change you on drinking beer at near freezing ever again.
Corey Vilhauer, For Link