Types of Beers and their Optimal Serving Temperatures

Guest Post

Temperature has a huge effect on how a beer tastes, and what flavors are most dominant when the brew hits your tongue. The optimal temperature of the beer depends a lot on the type of beer that you are serving. We’ve got the details, so let’s get started!

Hot and Cold

Chilled beer is obviously refreshing – but lower temperatures also affect our taste buds. First, cold temps will keep our tongues from sensing many of the flavors present in the average – we’re so busy experiencing the “cold” part of the beer, the “taste” part has less of an impact and our taste buds can become suppressed. Cold temperatures also have another effect – they slow down the volatilization of compounds in the beer. In other words, compounds that would normally be changing and giving off aromatic compounds stay sluggish: This usually means the beer has less flavor when icy cold than when at a higher temperature – there’s less interesting activity going on inside. From a more general perspective, cold temperatures also make it easier to notice carbonation, bitterness, and dry notes, which change the way you think about the beer.

Warm beer has a different set of problems. In some beers, those compounds can go a little too crazy in higher temperatures, and start making a beer taste more sour. Additionally, as the temperature rises, the hoppier notes and carbonation tend to fall, which changes the taste of the beer and can lead to that “flat” taste that no one wants. It’s no surprise that beers which depend less on hops and carbonation – especially ales – favor warmer temperatures.

Note: “Heat” is different from sunlight. The sun can warm your beer, but the light itself has additional taste-changing effects, particularly when it comes to transparent bottles/glasses. The double-whammy of heat and light is why you shouldn’t leave beer out on a hot summer day.

General Temperature Range

As a general rule, beer should be served between about 38 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit – with some exceptions. Different classifications of beer tend to do better at different temperature ranges, based largely on their composition and intended taste. Lagers are served at colder temperatures than ales, stronger or darker beers are served at warmer temperatures than weaker or lighter beers, and so on. Of course, there are a few exceptions (and we’ll talk about some in a bit), but these are good general guidelines for plotting temperature.

Also remember that people’s hands as well as sunlight, fireplaces and much can help heat up a beer. Many professional servers find a target temperature for their beer, then lower it by a few extra degrees in a cooler to make up for these sources of heat.

Specific Temperature Ranges (in Fahrenheit)

35 to 40 Degrees (or even lower): Let’s be honest – there are some types of beer you don’t want to taste at all. You just want them to be cold. If there’s a beer where taste comes in last place, it’s a good idea to set the temperature extra low. This includes malt liquors, macro American lagers, and a few ultra-casual session beers.
40 to 45 Degrees: This range is ideal for very light or effervescent beers that nonetheless still have flavor profiles. If you have a good Belgian Wit, a Hefeweizen, a Pilsner, or a Kolsch, serve them around these temperatures for best results. It’s worth noting that all craft beer is subject to experimentation, and experiments with these light beers usually focus on adding more flavor. If you have a crafty version of one of these beers, you may want to try a warmer temperature to see if it brings out more flavor.
45 to 50 Degrees: This is a great range if you just aren’t sure what settings to use on your beverage cooler. It works for pale ales, IPAs, lagers with a bit more weight to them, most porters, and a number of stouts, too – especially nitro-based stouts that focus a bit more on carbonation and so benefit from cooler temperatures.
50 to 55 Degrees: This range is usually referred to as “cellar temp” since it matches the temperature of most traditional cellars where beer is kept. If you can imagine an old inn or monastery keeping a barrel in their cellar for tapping, this is the range to put the beer in. It includes, naturally, the Belgian and Trappest ales, as well as English Bitters, Sour Ales, most various lambics, any Bocks, and powerful Baltic Porters.
55 to 60 Degrees: Especially heavy beers that are more of a long-term drinking experience belong here. This includes Imperial Stouts, Belgian Strong Ales, Eisbocks and Dopplebocks, Barley Wines, and anything else that makes you think, “Whoa.”

Hope we have given you a good starting point to optimizing the serving temperature of beer. For some, a regular cooler or fridge will do. However, for those who want to experience beer at recommended temperatures, you may want to consider buying a quality beer fridge.

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