Wednesday, 18 July 2012

How to Serve a Beer: Temperature, Glassware, and Pouring

One of the great myths perpetuated by the macro behemoths of the beer world is that beer should be served ice cold.  When beer is served at frigid temperatures, it actually mutes our taste buds blocking off-flavours.  Hence, these macro light lagers taste terrible warm because the ever-present off-flavours of their sub-par ingredients become more discernible showing that... surprise... they also taste terrible cold but we have become accustomed to the apparent 'refreshingness' of this cold temperature as if that were a flavour while we are 'blinded' to these notes and enjoying simply a relative absence of taste.  Yet, with such a prevalence of off and undesirable flavours, these beers must be drank ice cold (insofar as they must be drank at all), but this isn't so for all beer.

Another popular misconception is that 'the British drink warm (or room temperature) beer,' but they most certainly do not: they drink cellar temperature beer at 8 to 14 degrees Celsius, not the 19 to 21 degrees of room temperature nor the 2 to 5 degrees of most refrigerators.

Beers of different styles are best suited to specific temperatures.  Before you get too upset by this, consider whether your idea of disgusting warm beer is informed by a flat, stale, warm (as in room temperature), macro-brewed pale lager or by a just poured, fresh, cellar-temperature oatmeal stout.  Remember: there is more diversity in beer than in all other alcoholic beverages put together and you wouldn't presume to chill a red wine simply because you do with your vodka!

The unique, subtle, and pleasant notes of many, many beers styles are best observed - and enjoyed - at temperatures above the arctic extremes.  Ratebeer keeps a list of appropriate serving temperatures as a guide, and it isn't difficult to turn a fridge-stored beer to the appropriate temperature.  For their 'cold' beers so listed, take them out 5 minutes early; 10-15 minutes for cool; 15-30 minutes for cellar (depending upon bottle-size since some of these come in 750ml bottles!); and a touch longer for warm - presuming you do not have both a cellar and a fridge which always makes things easier!

As far as pouring the beer goes, another popular misconception abounds: that the beer should be poured down the side of the glass so as to minimize the head.  However, most beer drinkers actually find a beer more appealing with a nice head, while brewers work hard to ensure their beer presents an attractive, thick head of solid retention as per style norms, and (perhaps most importantly) the head most substantially allows the dissemination of aromas that are so very crucial to the tasting experience.

It is for these very reasons - head and aroma - that many beer glasses are designed as they are and beer should, ideally, be served in style-appropriate glassware, though when all else fails a stemmed wine glass will usually suffice.  In brief, on glassware, an outward taper allows for extra head expression (especially when the taper is uniform), an inward taper tempers the head at a specific point, and tapers in both directions (as in a tulip glass) often offer the most widely appropriate glassware for diverse styles.  Moreover, the standard nonic pint glass (with the bump) serves to warm beers in the hand while the bulb prevents dropping the glass and for many styles, this is not ideal glassware despite the common usage.  Finally, certain glass shapes allow for better aroma dispersal (or maintenance) and if wondering what best to serve a specific style in, help is available around the internet, specifically here and here.

One final note on glassware: please, DO NOT chill your glass!  A frozen glass can shock the beer damaging the aromas, while also leaving ice particles that can damage the head and hinder the flavour.  If you hate a beer and drink it frigid, you can chill your glass, but if you want to enjoy it, this is not really conducive to that!

So you want head (on your beer, pervert!), but how should you pour it to do so optimally?  There are numerous ways, but perhaps the simplest and most effective is to pour down the middle of your glass with a steady, but moderate pour from a bottle (or can) tilted horizontally above the perfectly vertical glass.  If the head is too substantial to finish in one pour, wait for 10-60 seconds for the head to diminish and then pour some more.  Such a double-poured beer will develop a finer, thicker, fuller head offering you aromas that will entice you and enhance your drinking experience.

Stay tuned for some thoughts on how to rate a beer - whether literally or just to think more clearly about something we all do when we drink something which is make an appraisal.  Until then... cheers!

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