How important is temperature to the overall taste of beer? Very. You wouldn’t really enjoy drinking beers that were rolling around in your trunk on a summer day. They’d feel more like guzzling TheraFlu than a nice, crisp pilsner.
The same goes for a rich, chocolatey stout. You don’t normally see a lot of stouts being poured at a ballgame. “If you can drink a heavy, boozy, rich, complex beer in 90-degree heat for three hours straight, you probably are in the .1% of beer drinkers,” says Ross Koenigs, R&D Brewer at New Belgium Brewing Company.
Obviously, these are extreme circumstances. The real importance of temperature in the overall taste of beer depends on the type of beer, your level of engagement with your glass and the environment you are drinking it in. “From a strictly sensory perspective, temperature influences how we perceive flavors and aromas,” says Koenigs.
“Which is why you might want to think twice before you crack open a cold one. “Serve a beer too cold and the flavors become masked,”says Jim Koch, founder, and brewer of Samuel Adams, who noted that the ideal storage temperature for beer is right above freezing, and that it should be sipped when it’s freshest. The same goes for letting your beer sit for too long and get warm—and potentially go flat—while developing some less-than-ideal off flavors. “But, if you serve a beer at an optimal temperature, that’s when the magic happens, releasing the beer’s aromas and flavor that a brewer worked so hard for a drinker to enjoy.”
And while letting a beer come up in temperature will unveil more delicate notes, the drinker can also experience undesirable aromas, notably ethanol. “The warmer the beer, the more volatile aroma compounds will be driven out,” says Matt ‘Truck’ Thrall, director of brewing for Left Hand Brewing Company. Because most of our sense of taste is based on our sense of smell, temperature plays a large role in sensory perception.
In the simplest terms, the beers most people enjoy should be imbibed around 40-45°F. But it’s important to know that “proper serving temperature isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, and a good beertender will know when your beer is in peak serving range,” says Thrall. If you don’t happen to have a good cicerone handy, then go ahead and do a little experimentation on your own and allow a beer to warm up from ice cold to room temp and take notes during the process. “Beer drinking doesn’t always have to be fun,” says Thrall. “It can be for science, too.”
Don’t have time to do that much homework? Below, find a handy list of the best temperatures for whatever you’re putting in your glass.