In Search of the Perfect Beer Temperature

In Search of the Perfect Beer Temperature

It's a lot more complicated than you think.
May 19, 2017, 8:00pm

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in January 2017.

How do you find the perfect temperature to drink a beer? Well, "perfection is the hobgoblin of some fairly small-ass minds." At least that's how I would have written it if I were Ralph Waldo Emerson. But he was a Quaker who lived in the woods, and I'm a blogger who loves Gamer Fuel, so we do things in different ways, and that's fine. He was also a better writer than I am by a fairly humongous margin, and that is why he wrote the version of that quote that ended up on bumper stickers and I wrote the one that will be immediately forgotten.

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So, where to begin? Well, if you were just tossing a grab bag of unlabeled suds into the cooler, you could aim for around 40 degrees, considering that's within the sweet spot of every style of beer from Pilsners to Dubbels, according to the Homebrewers Association. It's just an average, of course, and you will generally have more specific information about your beer than that it is beer, so the figure could use some fine-tuning.

Unfortunately, the brand- or style-specific guidelines that are out there are not much more helpful than the generic advice above. Cigar City's Justin Clark, for example, says of his craft beers, "We do not pasteurize any of our products. Storing our beer cold will help ensure that the beer lover enjoys our beers as we intended."

But he also says: "Cold masks flavors, we want you to be able to taste our beer."

So you gotta store the beer cold and then drink it less cold. Well, I reckon physics will take care of that. But we still don't have an action item here. I followed up with Cigar City, and representative Neil Callaghan told me that the brewery requires its distributors to ship its beers well below 40 degrees—as close to 33 degrees as possible. But serving temperatures are kind of up in the air.

"At the end of the day, transportation and storage temperature is a matter of quality and shelf- life, while serving temperature is a matter of preference," Callaghan said. " I usually prefer my Jai Alai IPA closer to 50 degrees to open up the aroma of the hops, but I like drinking Cigar City Lager cooler—closer to 40 degrees to accentuate effervescence and carbonation. Again, serving temperature is more of a preference."

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On the other end of the spectrum, the King of Beers is maybe as close as we can get to finding a rock solid recommendation for serving temperature: between 38 and 40 degrees for cans and bottles. Anheuser Busch does seem to concede that 36 and below is anathema to big beer flavor. But that's just for watery macros, and any higher ABV craft beer will be better at warmer temps, right?

READ MORE: Day Drinking Rules to Live By for Aspiring Beer Idiots

Not so, says the Brewers Association, because how you store the beer and what vessel you use for its consumption may be so much more important (and variable) than the serving temperature that it's not worth fretting over. If you drink a beer that's been sitting at room temp for a month, it's just as crummy as one that's been in the fridge for almost a year.

Alrighty. We need to store beer cold and serve it kind of cold, but in a not-cold glass of the proper shape. And maybe it needs to be less cold if it's higher in alcohol (but not necessarily). Anywhere between 38 and 60 degrees is optimal, great, fine, bad, or terrible—depending on the beer and who you ask. Nobody knows, actually. Not even the guys who make and sell it. We started out like in the first Indiana Jones and ended up at the fourth one, didn't we? Bummer.

Tell you what: I just cracked one and recorded the temperature. It started at 49.1 degrees and ended at 98.6. And if you ask me, that's the number that matters. Anyhow, here are some of the cold-to-kinda-cold suds I'm chugging on this week:

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DESTIHL Brewery Wild Sour Series: Lynnbrook Raspberry Berliner Weisse: This beer is a great example of why the build-your-own-six-pack option is a double-edged sword at times. I love not being forced to commit to a full rack of a new beer every trip to the store, and grabbing one at a time means you can try something you might otherwise have to leave on the shelf.

But the other side of the coin is that beers like the ones from DESTIHL's kooky Wild Sour Series, which benefit extensively from repeated tastings, are not likely to get a fair shake. I really hated this beer at first, and even the second can seemed acrid and harsh. But since I had a six pack to grind through, I gave it a few days in the cold chest and went back with a fresh mouth. It still wasn't my favorite, and I don't know if it's even one of the better sour beers I've had lately. But my opinion of it was much improved from first can to sixth, and I think it's worth trying if you're a fan of the category.

READ MORE: Why I Don't Brew My Own Beer

Green Man IPA: Here's what I would consider your standard issue IPA. Or maybe that undersells it somewhat. Let's just say it's a representative sample of the style. For one thing, it eschews weird additives or flavor twists—it's "stock" India Pale Ale. That means you get the classic herbal profile without fruity oils lingering in your mouth too long. It also means it's well-balanced and not bitter for bitter's sake.

Unfortunately that conservative approach also means that Green Man IPA is not an especially memorable beer, but considering most IPAs that stick out in my mind do so because they're some kind of Frankensteinian nonsense, that's probably a good thing.

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Left Hand Brewing Good Juju: Isn't it weird that breweries can't put "Ginger Ale" on the label of stuff like Good Juju, even though that's precisely what it is, because you'd mistakenly believe it was trying to move in on Canada Dry and Seagram's? Good Juju is more of a beer than something like, say, Crabbie's, which has so much ginger it feels like an old timey tonic. It's still fairly strong, however, and not for people who don't like authentic Chinese food or candy from the 1930s.

Mike's Chilled Cherry Hard Lemonade: If you can detect, much less explain, the differences between this Chilled Cherry Hard Lemonade, and the ubiquitous Black Cherry Lemonade, much less the Harder Cherry Lime Punch and Harder Cherry Lemonade high-ABV variants, your mouth should be analyzed by nanobots at CERN. Chilled Cherry is delicious but inscrutably so—a boozy mystery that only I care about.

French Broad 13 Rebels ESB: Weirdly enough, this Extra Special Bitter is the counterexample to the DESTIHL six pack theory. At first sip, I was amazed by the complex profile and the unique flavor, but by the end of the can, I had had all I could stand. That said, I bought the one can for $1 because it was possibly expired, so a fresh taste is probably in order.

Abita Sweet Orange: This is a rare orange beer that isn't trying to imitate Blue Moon (it's a lager). This one unfortunately smells much better than it tastes. It smells pretty damn great, though, so that doesn't mean it's all bad. I'd like a little more orange color on this, and perhaps not so dry a finish. Fruit beers don't have to be overly sweet, but if one is billed that way, it needs to lean in that direction, I think, and Sweet Orange is weirdly neutral.

Sweetwater Squeeze Box: This IPA with grapefruit added is exactly the kind of Frankensteinian nonsense that Green Man manages to avoid with its flagship ale. It's tasty enough, though, and at only 45 IBU it almost seems a little watered down compared to most IPAs. It is very much the type of beer Sweetwater would make, so if you like that then you won't be disappointed. I will, however, "Catch & Release" this limited edition beer.