The traditional big brewers making American Light Lager love to sell drinkers on the ice cold and refreshing qualities of their beer, but I suspect they want you to drink it cold so you can’t actually taste it. Serving temperature, like everything else with craft beer, is mainly a personal preference, but there is science and tradition behind how cold your brew should be.
We only advocate drinking your beer the way you like it, so If you like ice-cold brews then chill ‘em down! However, if you want to the best chance to taste the beer the way the brewer intended you should be serving it well above the typical household fridge temperature. Renowned beer-writer Michael Jackson identified the ideal serving temperature for over 450 different varieties of beer in his book Ultimate Beer, but this can be greatly simplified: lagers should be served coldest, at around 45 degrees, while ales should be served closer to 55 degrees (and porters or stouts even warmer than that).
10 degrees difference may not sound like much, but it the warmer temperature will really bring the malt and fruit notes out of hiding and give you a much fuller and more pleasing flavor-profile. How do you get a beer fresh from the fridge up to the proper serving temperature? I performed a few simples tests and have discovered that a 12oz beer fresh from my fridge is a cool 39 degrees when cracked open. Sitting out on the wooded dining room table in a comfortable 73 degree room the beer took nearly 70 minutes to reach an idea ale-drinking temperature of 55 degrees. That’s a long time to wait for a perfect temperature glass of beer, but try it out you might be surprised at the difference it makes!
I would recommend playing around with your serving temperature, and finding what you like the best for what you like to drink. Have any tricks for serving a beer at the perfect temp? Do you like ‘em ice-cold or cellar-cool? Let’s hear about it in the comments.