Serving Temperature Guidelines
Most Americans are used to drinking their beers at very cold temperatures, but these icy temperatures harm the enjoyment of craft beer. While lighter-styled craft beers should be served cold, it is not necessary or wise to serve them icy cold. Just as too cold a temperature dulls a fine white wine, it has the same effect on a fine craft beer. This is especially important for beer that is served with a meal.
Some of this beer temperature confusion comes from the popular North American light beers and macro-brewed lagers that are designed to taste best at around 38–39° F. Accordingly, U.S. beer refrigeration equipment and draught dispensing systems are designed to hold beer at 34-38° F. In contrast, lighter styles of craft beer taste their best a bit warmer than that and are also more tolerant of warmer serving temperature variations.
Richly-flavored, fuller-bodied craft beer styles prefer to be somewhat warmer still. Like elegant red wines that are best served at cool cellar temperature. Full-flavored, higher-alcohol beer styles need a chill but not a cold. At the same time, be careful not to serve full-flavored beers (or red wines for that matter) at room temperature. Typical room temperature (72° F) is much too warm for all but a couple of craft beer styles.
Since all beers will warm up after they are poured into a glass, this factor can also be accounted for in your bottle-service refrigerator temperature settings. A room-temperature, rinsed, thin-shell glass will raise the temperature of beer by about two degrees Fahrenheit. A room-temperature heavy glass chalice or mug increases the beer’s temperature by about 4° to 6° F.
Below is a discussion of handling service temperature for craft beers, first bottled, then draught.
Bottled Craft Beer Service Temperature Guidelines
Short-term storage of bottled beer at service temperature will not harm the beer. For proper craft beer service three separate bottle-temperature zones are recommended. Conveniently, these double up nicely with wine categories. The temperature recommendations are designed to assure an optimum serving temperature, accounting for a 2° F glass warming factor. The three categories are:
1. Cold, no lower than 41° F (5° C) >> Lighter styles of beer — Sparkling wines/Champagne
2. Chilled, no lower than 46° F (8° C) >> Most craft beers — White wines
3. Cellar, around 53° F (12° C) >> Higher alcohol, richly flavored beers — Red wines
Cold: This is for your lightest styles of craft beer. These include American Pale Lagers and Pilsners, German-style Helles Lager, lighter American Wheat Beer, lighter summer seasonal beers, sweet fruit-flavored Lambics, Belgian-style Wit (white ale), and Kölsch.
Chilled: This workhorse category works for craft-brewed Pale, Amber, Brown, Blonde, & Golden ales; Hefeweizen, Stout; Porter; Dunkel, dark Wheat Beer; Tripel; dark sour ales, Gueuze, Amber lagers, and dark lagers. This cooler doubles for your white wines.
Cellar: Cool cellar temperature (like those in a true, unheated in-ground cellar or cave) is where you keep your cask-conditioned English Ales & Bitters, India Pale Ales & double IPAs, most things labeled Imperial, dark Abbey beers, Dubbel, Barleywine, Baltic Porter, Bock and Doppelbock. This cellar-temperature cooler doubles for your red wines.
Since the so-called best temperature for drinking a specific beer is also influenced by personal preference, no easy way exists to ensure that everyone will like every beer at the temperatures recommended above. However, these recommended temperature zones are a great place to start, and they are certain to drastically improve beer service versus simply serving all beers at the same cold temperature.
Test your beer service temperatures with customers and see where your customers prefer them to be. With so many styles of craft beer available today, it is difficult to know exactly where each beer will taste its best. It may take a little trial and error to decide which of the three temperature categories is right for a specific beer.
Check the thermometer
Don’t depend solely on the cooler’s thermostat dial markings or digital read out; use an NSF calibrated refrigerator thermometer to monitor the beer cooler temperature. In this energy-waste-conscious environment, keeping your thermostat at optimum temperature, and not a degree colder, is not only good for beer service, it is good for your bank account.
Draught Beer Service Temperature Guidelines
Draught beer is quite a different animal from bottled beer. The American beer industry has standardized draught beer dispensing systems to operate at a constant 38° F for optimum performance. This means that all the beers will dispense at the same very cold temperature, whether they are Bud Light or a big Imperial IPA. This poses a challenge for any restaurant concerned about the proper service temperature requirements of craft beer. Changing the temperature can really mess up draught beer service and is not recommended. There is currently no practical and affordable solution to this dilemma.
One way to deal with this uni-temp reality for your draughts is to emphasize craft beer styles that show better at colder draught system temperatures. You then balance out the draughts with bottled-versions of the more flavorful craft beer styles, which you serve at warmer, more appropriate temperatures.
For draught, emphasizing styles such as craft-made pale lager, Pilsner, (and possibly Dunkel and Schwartz) and lighter ale versions including Wheat, Blonde, Golden, Cream, Kolsch, and Wit will help you maintain some service-temperature integrity. In restaurant use these lighter tasting styles still provide a good range of food pairing opportunities and situational compatibilities.
Additionally, always be sure to use room-temperature beer glassware for craft draughts. The glassware will warm up the beer by 2 to 6 degrees, depending on whether it is a thin-walled glass or heavy mug.
If you do choose to offer more-fully-flavored craft beers on draught, at least you can rest assured that your competitors are likely serving them up at the same cold temperatures. American craft beer drinkers have learned to be fairly tolerant of draught beer served a little too cold for the style.
What about the macro-brews?
North American macro-brewed lagers and lights, such as the familiar Bud-Miller-Coors-Corona contingent, show better at colder serving temperatures than craft beer. Should you decide to continue selling them, both kegs and bottles of these should be kept in icy cold refrigeration set to 35-38° F.
Cool craft beer, like wine, good for business
In summary, people tend to prefer their light American macro lagers at 38-40° F because this is the temperature at which they are designed to taste their best. Craft beers, on the other hand, definitely taste better at warmer temperatures. Contemporary craft beers are often based on traditional beer styles that did not depend on modern refrigeration equipment. Craft beers open up and show off their taste complexities at more moderate temperatures. Think of craft beer much like you think of wine. It has very similar temperature requirements — and the requirements are quite different from those of generic light beer and macro-brewed lagers.
As is true in so many areas of restaurant management, paying attention to the little things leads to increased customer satisfaction. Paying proper attention to craft beer storage temperature is yet another avenue to positively differentiate your establishment from the competition. Your customers will recognize and appreciate this little thing that means so much to beer appreciation.
For more information, consult a beer temperature service guide like the one linked here from Ratebeer.com.
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