Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Moment Ends the moment ends the moment ends

In the last week or two i have somehow been in the midst of serving temperature conversations everywhere I turn. Personal conversations, overheard conversations, the usual suspects. A lot of chatter, a lot of opinion, a bit of science; all this over a few tallies of Fahrenheit. So let’s follow that trend then and take a look at drinking beer at different temperatures.


A beer that’s too cold is going to numb your taste buds and prevent you from tasting a lot of what makes some beers special. Other beers- dumb, ugly, bastardizations of beer- depend on this so that you drink more and do so more quickly, they want you to drink more and taste less. I can’t think of many other food products that fly by this logic.

A beer that’s too warm just isn’t going to work either. Sure certain styles benefit from warmth or even warming (which I’ll get into momentarily), but there’s got to be a line here too. Cellar temperature has its limits and if your cellar is your back porch in July, well, you got problems buddy.

The effects of warming on a glass of beer can be great for the beer drinker who is paying attention. You pour or are served your beer and you unconsciously submit to the routine of eyeballing it, getting a nice bit of it’s aromas up your nose (maybe repeating this a few times), before taking that first sip. And with that you have your idea of what this beer is all about. You’ve got a feel for the hops, you’ve got a feel for the flavors that the fermentation kicked out, but hey, not so fast there. With warming some of these flavors are going to change, more are going to poke out and make themselves known. This is especially true of many Belgian styles of beer, where the yeast creates phenols and esters that give off both the aroma and taste of fruit and spices. Many styles of dark beer also bring late greatness to the table. Roasty characters as well as tones of chocolate, smoke, wood, and even licorice will start to show themselves as a nice stout or robust porter warm in your glass.


A good cold beer on a hot day can be extremely refreshing. Of course, and there are styles that just beg for this, most of which are easy drinking with moderate ABV. A nice wheat beer in the summer, for me, is just a beautiful thing. The crisp, clean finish of a Weissbier is great on the palate in any season, but with their great hints of fruit, spice, and doughy yeast these bright yellowish orange treats are garnish to an outdoor bar or patio. Many styles of session beer seem to work great cold. I am not talking about frost brewing blah-blah here (nor should anyone else be), but if a fine glass of beer has enough character and flavor upfront, a little chill isn’t going to do it too much harm.

Flip the coin. Give me a dubbel and i’ll show your glass both of my palms. I love a nice dark Belgian ale with a bit of warming; so much flavor comes out of it sip by sip. When you are experiencing something like this for the first time it almost seems magical. Very specific tastes begin to pop out at you with great distinction. Cherries, figs, candy, the list could go on and on. Similarly, a stout can get poured and just sit for 10 minutes as far as I’m concerned. You get so much more out of a dark beer that’s warmed up, this is probably the most obvious example of why all beer shouldn’t be served at the same temperature. A creamy imperial stout at 30 some degrees would probably taste like some perversion of soda more so than beer.


Heat can’t be destroyed, only moved, so since many fine beers are scant on preservatives (aside from those qualities being contributed by hops) and most of the good stuff doesn’t go through pasteurization, placing them in a cool (and dark, if in bottles) area for storage is about the nicest thing you can do for your beer. You’ll get a longer shelf life as the chemical compounds (over 1,000 of them) will be in their ideal storage conditions. Brewers choose the finest and freshest ingredients they can to give you the finest and freshest beer they can, so with a little care on your end every bottle can and will taste great. Like a fresh loaf of bread, you’ve got your window until it goes stale and mishandling can make that window close more quickly. Luckily with beer that window is typically several months for even the tamest of beers. The big boys: high alcohol brews or those that are very dark, age quite well and in these same cool conditions can go for years becoming more complex and yeast still living in the beer can continue to consume leftover sugars creating more alcohol and more texture of flavors.

So then, the last thing you’d want to do is have this information and give great care to your beer only to turn around and numb your taste buds to the point that you cannot fully taste it. Rate has a great little chart here that will give you the classes of serving temps and recommended temps for each style of beer. Of course, what tastes best to you will ultimately be the best temperature, this chart is a darn good guide to getting the most out of each glass you pour.

So why am i saying all of this?

Because i had a beautiful experience with a beer the other day, that’s why. Poperings Hommelbier is classified by some in this newer category of Belgian IPAs and others are simply ranking it as a Belgian Golden Ale. Regardless, i think it’s a great beer. It is crisp and very refreshing on the palate. It’s not too high in ABV at 7.5, but its no lightweight either.

Now i’d bought a case of this at the Beer Yard and enjoyed bottle after bottle (the labels are very easy to get off for use in homebrewing as well) this previous fall. When it was time to pack up and move to a new place last month i discovered four bottles still sitting in my stash. Out of curiosity, i popped one open the other day without even bothering to fridge it. My beer space has been quite cool since i moved in and i wanted to give it a little test.

This was the most magnificent bottle of Hommelbier i have ever had. I decanted off of the yeast into a tulip glass and there was a fervent head that bubbled a good two inches throwing out nothing but the smell of green apples and hops. Incredible. For a beer i’d sat on longer than intended it had such punch in the nose and such beauty in the glass. I took a sip and immediately forgot all i knew about this beer. I’d always enjoyed this beer much colder than this, at least 5 degrees if not more towards the low end. I am thinking i was definitely upper 40’s, if not right on the bicentennial this time around.

Gone was the yeastyness that prevailed in many of the others, gone was the sharp bite and the end of each sip. I fell into this glass like a needle on a record, right into the groove. I mean, how can you drink something so many times and have an experience like this by just changing a few degrees? Keep your chatter, keep your opinion, keep your science. That beer was magical.

Sure you can study all there is to know about yeast, about proteins in sugars, and about units of CO2 (lord knows I’m trying), but once that bottle leaves the brewery it is on its own individual ride. So many strides are taken to keep the taste of beer consistent, which is quite important, but what is so great, so beyond any brewer’s planning, so left completely up to chance, consumer knowledge, planning, and luck, is that every time we sit down to drink a beer we will never be able to replicate that experience ever again. Every beer you drink from a case will be younger than the one that comes after it, every sip a touch younger than the next, every day in the vessel another chance for that beer to live and grow. Barleywines become deep, strong sippers. Stouts develop into smooth roasty, smokey velvet. Dubbels become fruity silk. Now tell me this, who still wants to drink boring beer?


Steve said...

Nice title.

I always preferred the Moma Dance myself.


Rafer said...

I cringe every time I am served an ice cold beer. I hold it in my hands to warm it up looking like somone on a cold day wraped around a hot mug of tea. The only thing I drink that cold is a coctail. I have even discoverd hard cider, which says on the lable to serve cold, to be enjoyable at room temp.