Hop-Ed: The “Too Cold” Beer

Stone Brewing's Thunderstruck IPA, an incredibly complex beer when warmed up for a few minutes. Photo by Alex Wilking.
Written by Alex Wilking

By Alex Wilking
BU News Service

When I get home, I usually run straight for my stockpile of $15 beers. But during my early drinking days, I’d pull these beers right out of the fridge without a second thought, and was often disappointed in the lack of flavor they had. For that kind of money, I expected complexity.

After some research (and tears), I realized that I was simply drinking these beers too cold. An over-chilled beer yields less flavor, less sweetness, less aroma; less everything really. I had been wasting expensive beer because of my own impatience.

But why does beer lose flavor when it’s too cold? Smell is everything in how we perceive flavor — a concept referred to as “retronasal olfaction.” When a beer is too cold, less carbonation is present. This makes for slow-moving chemical reactions in the beer. In that state, your beer isn’t producing enough esters and flavor compounds for your brain to pick up anything.

The ideal temperature for a beer is around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Some breweries want their beer to be served at even higher temperatures, though it ultimately depends on the style of beer and the drinker’s palate. Over-chilling beer is really only a problem in the U.S. too — other countries like Europe drink their beer much warmer, and tread lightly to make sure nothing is served too cold. For Dummies did a great beer-by-beer breakdown if you’re looking to find your beer’s perfect temperature.

My advice — let your beer sit out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before drinking it. Go read something, or go watch an episode of Arrested Development. Hell, I wrote a good chunk of this article waiting for my Clown Shoes porter to thaw. Just give the beer time to adjust to room temperature. If you want, you can even feel the beer every few minutes and track how much it’s warmed.

Advice from the professionals — pretty much the same thing. Beer should be cold, but your beer was never intended to be sipped that cold. The Chicago Tribune also suggests ordering two beers at once at the bar, letting the second one warm while you enjoy the first. Most bars are tapping your beer at the correct temperature though; my advice is geared toward beer consumption at home.

On that note, freeze-to-use beer mugs are the devil if you want to savor anything about a beer. The harsh cold of a freezer can actually damage ingredients in your beer if stored there long-term, but can flash-freeze it to the perfect temperature if done correctly, as MythBusters discovered. Freezing those mugs will just keep your beer at the same low temperatures that a fridge will. Honestly, it’s not worth using your freezer for anything beer-related, though frozen glasses are good for cradling cheap beer.

Because in all fairness, most of this info is irrelevant if your beer doesn’t have anything to mask. Your PBR isn’t hiding any plum undertones or coffee flavors, I assure you. In fact, macro breweries would probably prefer that you drink your beer ice-cold so you don’t notice how devoid of flavor it is. I understand there are also situations when drinkers aren’t concerned about taste, and just want an immediate buzz of alcohol in their system. In that case, cheers.

To a certain threshold, the temperature of your beer comes down to personal preference. If you like it ice-cold, more power to you — everything about beer is subjective. Many do advocate for putting beer in the freezer. But if you shelled out on a nice brew for a special occasion, considering taking the extra few minutes to let it warm. I promise that you’ll notice nuances you wouldn’t have otherwise.

If you still have temperature qualms about your beer, this BeerAdvocate thread discusses a number of hyper-specific scenarios involving over-chilled beer.

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