Some like it cold
Guest | 04 Oct 2016
The most frequently asked question we get, usually every Thursday afternoon, is… “how cold does this week’s beer need to be?”. Once I’ve kicked myself for forgetting to put such useful advice in the weekly email, the usual reply goes something like… “I’d give it XX minutes in the fridge, but it’s completely up to you”.
Will Hawkes, the founder of Craft Beer London app and London Beer City week, talks us through his thoughts on serving temperatures...
Say what you will about Australians, but they know how to make a point. During the 2006/7 Ashes series, Aussies brewers Toohey’s ran an ad featuring a fat man in an ill-fitting Union Jack t-shirt cowering on a bar stool. The cause of his distress? A nearby glass of Toohey’s beer. “Served so cold it’s a Pom’s worst nightmare,” was the tagline.
Charming as the message was, though, it was inaccurate in at least one respect. Poms are almost as likely as Aussies (who have the excuse of living on a incredibly hot desert island) to drink their beer chilled. Indeed, ‘Cold beer’ has become a synonym for refreshment around the globe, to the extent that a number of beers even include the word ‘cold’ in their names.
We’ve been conditioned to expect our beer to be cold, then, but refreshment isn’t the main reason some breweries want their beer served as low as two degrees centigrade. No, it’s because at that temperature you barely taste anything. That’s crucial. If you’ve ever drunk one of the big industrial beers at a higher temperature - at a festival, say, or in a moment of crippling personal weakness - you’ll know that it’s not always a pleasant experience.
More flavoursome beers, though, deserve to be served at a higher temperature. What temperature depends on the beer; what works for imperial stouts won’t necessarily be appropriate for pale lagers.
I generally keep American-style pale ales and lagers in the fridge - which is about 3 or 4 degrees C, unless you want your food to go manky - and take them out shortly before I want to drink them; they’re best at 8-12 degrees centigrade. Session-strength British pale ales, porters and stouts, meanwhile, work well at about 12 degrees, which is cellar temperature in a good pub. A cool, dark spot in a garden shed - where there isn’t too much temperature fluctuation - will do the trick for most of the year.
Stronger, more complex beers need a little more warmth. Barley wines and Imperial Russian Stouts can be drunk at 15 or 16 degrees, and the same goes for stronger styles from other traditions, like rich, barley-sweet dopplebocks. Wild beers (or sour beers) can be served cooler than that, at around 8-12 degrees; the lower temperature works particularly well with the carbonation and tartness you find a in a Gueuze. Wheat beers, particularly the boldly-flavoured Bavarian versions, are designed for refreshment and can be served at between 6 and 8 degrees, where the clove-and-banana character is still noticeable.
These are suggestions rather than set-in-stone beer-drinking laws. If you prefer to drink your beer fridge-cold, then don’t worry too much about it. It’s up to you. And anyway, as our Aussie cousins would no doubt attest, sometimes only a cold beer will do.
In Summary - What temperature?
Pale Ale and Lager 8-12 degrees c (keep in the fridge)
Bitter, Porter and Stout 12 degrees (30 mins)
Wheat beers 6-8 degrees (1 hour)
Barley Wines and Imperial Stouts 15-16 degrees (room temp in winter)
Wild beers 8-12 degrees (30 mins)