Barley Mowat 

How to Serve Beer

with 4 comments

AKA You’re Serving It Too Cold, You Bloody Heathens

Not too long ago, a friend of mine was in a pub and ordered a “pint of the black” (that’s Guinness, for the uninitiated). This pint was promptly dispatched unto he in a foaming, frosted glass. Now, while it might be a bit much to expect a random pub to serve stout at the appropriate temperature (they do have to keep all the kegs in the same cold room, after all), the frosted glass is pushing it a bit far. Upon complaining, he was very huffily informed by the waitress that “Beer is served cold, sir.” He stuck with his guns and soon had his Guinness re-served in a non-frosted glass, presumably along with a free helping of saliva.

What was he on about? I mean, after all, beer is served cold, no? Sure, to some degree but, what is “cold?” As anyone who’s spent five minutes with a significant other in a room with a thermostat can attest to, the definition of “cold” is extremely subjective. To one person 70 is too cold, while to another 68 is too warm. Two of these unlucky folks will, sadly, never get along together simply because there’s no way for them to co-exist comfortably in the same space.

No way at all

It’s the same thing with beer. A light lager is quite happy at 45 while a stout is infinitely more comfortable at a relatively balmy 55. Some darker, stronger ales are even warmer, but only just south of 60. At no point should beer be served “warm,” despite what popular culture says about the British. In our above example, I don’t care who you are, no body is claiming 60 to be a happy household temperature. (Aside: some rarer brews can actually be served hot, for instance Unibroue’s very fine Quelque Chose, which I recommend with a stick of cinnamon. But those are few and far between.)

The confusion with the British comes about because they serve their ales at cellar temperature: just under 55F. While not as good as having a dedicated temperature for each type of beer, it is a bit of a shock for one used to the North American practice of “just throw it in with the lettuce.” Beer should never be kept in a normal fridge. Fridges are typically about 35F, and even a pilsner would have issues at that temperature, losing flavour and character notes. Cold is the enemy of flavour. So why do people store their beer in a spot that makes it almost certainly too cold?

Brewers of macro-beers (American Style Pilsner to us beer geeks) want their beer served cold. The colder the better. Within a degree of freezing, preferably. The reason is simple, these beers are marketed on their brand, not their content. The less content they have, the more the branding stands out. They’ve even recently produced cans and bottles that encourage the drinker to keep the beer cold, much colder than a pilsner needs to be. The problem is that drinkers of good beer see this marketing and then assume that their beer, too, must also be “cold certified.” This simple premise has probably done more to damage enjoyment of good beer than anything else over past few decades.

Seriously, fuck these guys

So now you know. Spend a bit of time and find out at what temperature your beer should be served. Many brewers of quality beer even put a recommended temperature right on the bottle. Then serve it in a glass. Any glass will do, but some are better than others. If you aren’t sure what temperature is correct, here is a very rough guide:

45F for light beers. eg pilsners, lagers, wheat ales
50F for most medium ales. eg amber ale, pale ale, light fruit ales
55F for most dark ales. eg IPA, bitter, stout, darker fruit ales
60F for barley wine. eg barley wine, you knob

Of crucial note is that white wines typically are in the 45-50F range as well, and reds 55-60F. This means that you’ve also been serving your whites too cold and your reds too warm.

Don’t worry about getting your drink to these exact values, just be aware that it might require a bit of time either in or out of the fridge prior to consumption. If you’re the hasty type, pick up one of each style above, put them in the fridge, and drink them in order. If you’re the type of alcoholic that seriously considered what I just proposed, then the time between beers will be just about right.

The best solution is, of course, to have a dedicated beer fridge that you can keep at the perfect temperature. More on that in a future post.

Written by chuck

October 20th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Beer and You

4 Responses to 'How to Serve Beer'

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  1. […] Temperature is a very important concept. Without proper understanding of temperature, humankind wouldn’t know how to make candy or destroy lice. Temperature also plays a key role in serving beer, as noted by blogger Barley Mowat. […]

  2. I don’t need anyone telling me at what temp to drink my beer or wine, thanks. Such bloody rigidity! A dedicated beer fridge? If we follow your advice, and also have a variety of beers, we would actually need several beer fridges, each at a different temperature. Sheesh, just drink the damn stuff.

    Wayne Brewer

    15 Feb 11 at 16:53

  3. Ah…. would publicans around this fair city PLEASE take note!

    Martin Williams

    15 Feb 11 at 20:32

  4. @Wayne One fridge does me well enough; just let the beer sit an appropriate amount before drinking it. And these tips are just guidelines for people who’d like to enjoy their brews as the brewer intended. Too cold and you simply are not tasting your beer, so why bother even buying craft beer in the first place?

    I’m not advocating some kind of Beer Police kick down your door if you drink it too cold (although I DO call dibs on that as a band name). You’re still free to stick stout in a freezer or lager in the microwave if that’s how you get your kicks.


    16 Feb 11 at 01:17

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