Some people like their beer cold. It’s how beer drinkers have been taught to enjoy our brews for years. This is particularly true if you prefer a lager. But did you know that the colder your beer is the less you can detect its flavour and aroma? Other people like theirs a bit warmer. But how warm is too warm? I’m not about to suggest that you start sticking a thermometer into your drink. However, knowing the recommended serving temperature for your beer can help improve your enjoyment of it.
Getting the serving temperature right is also important if you’re being serious about evaluating your beer.
If nothing else, you can get by pretty well by using this simple rule of thumb:
“Light-bodied, low-alcohol beers taste better chilled; full-bodied, high-alcohol beers are better slightly warmer, but still cool.”
You might have noticed that I didn’t talk about the colour of the beer there, or mention any particular styles. It’s also true that pale beers are usually better chilled and darker ones are better warmer. However there are a couple of exceptions. That’s why it’s better to think about your drink’s strength and body.
Another general rule is that your beer shouldn’t be so cold it hurts your teeth. And even the strongest, darkest beer should be served a little cooler than room temperature. If you read around this subject you might see people refer to ‘cellar temperature’. Few of us are lucky enough to have an actual cellar. Just know that this means somewhere around 10°C to 13°C (about 50°F to 55°F).
Recommended serving temperature for beer styles
If you want to get a little more specific, you can group beers by style into five bands of recommended serving temperatures.
- Very cold (2–4°C or 35–40°F): Mass market light lagers
- Cold (4–7°C or 40–45°F): Czech and German Pilsners, Munich Helles, wheat beers e.g. Hefeweizen and Berliner Weisse, and Kölsch
- Chilled (7–10°C or 45–50°F): IPAs, American pale ales, Altbier, porters, and most stouts
- Cellar temperature (10–13°C or 50–55°F): Belgian ales, sour ales, lambic, gueuze, Bocks, English bitters and milds, Scottish ales, Trappist beers
- Cool (13–16°C or 55–60°F): Barleywines, imperial stouts, Belgian quadrupels and strong ales, Doppelbocks, Eisbocks, and Old Ales
Which is all very well, but now perhaps you’re looking at your room temperature bottle of Hefeweizen and wondering how long you need to stick it in the fridge.
How do I get my beer to the right serving temperature?
Well, this is going to depend on a number of factors. How warm is it where you are? How warm is the beer? How cold is your fridge, and how well does it run? All of these are so variable that there’s no way to give you a definitive answer. But for most occasions these general guidelines should work out just about OK.
Assuming your beer is stored somewhere around room temperature, i.e. 20°C…
- To get your beer cool, about 20 minutes in the fridge should be enough. If it’s cold out, and you’re confident your neighbours won’t steal it, you could try putting your beer out on the doorstep for a similar length of time.
- To get your beer to cellar temperature, give it something more like 40 minutes, possibly up to an hour. The bottle should feel distinctly cool to the touch but not cold.
- To reach the chilled range, you want your beer in there at least an hour; 90 minutes might be better.
If you’re aiming for cold or very cold beer, it can often be much more convenient to think instead of how long it will take to warm up to the right temperature. Keep them in the fridge and take them out 10 or 20 minutes before you want to drink them.
Why do cold beers have less flavour anyway?
Carbonation plays a big role here. Put simply, the colder your beer is the less carbon dioxide will be released. And if it’s less fizzy, fewer volatile organic compounds will be released. This means less aroma, which in turn means less flavour. (This is because our sense of smell plays a huge role in our perception of flavour – but that’s a subject for another day.) So what to do if your drink’s too cold? Well… you could always pop it into the microwave.
“Ten seconds takes that frosty edge off.” Ray Daniels, founder of the Cicerone programme.
This is why drinking at the recommended serving temperature matters. It’s all about getting the desired level of aroma and flavour out of your beer.
Your drink your way
One final thought: the right drink for you is the one that you enjoy. So if you like your lager warm or your barleywine tooth-stingingly cold, don’t let anyone put you down for that. But if you’re wondering whether perhaps it could give you a different experience, why not give the recommended serving temperature a go?