Piss and Vinegar: My Beer Is Too Cold!

Ah, those simpler times, not so long ago, before I knew that some beers were neither ales nor lagers, or that some bad tastes in beer had names and chemical formulas, or that freshly harvested hops could be used in very special beers, or that some marketing drones think of dried things as fresh.

In those simpler times — even before I knew that some “pints” were less than 16 ounces — one of the most common things for a beer lover like me to geek out about was beer served too cold. It was a reasonable thing to complain about: the IPAs and other strong ales we drink a lot of in the Pacific Northwest are more flavorful if you drink them at temperatures in the 50s, a far cry from the “pour me a cold one” culture that bars and restaurants move in.

A few years ago, it seemed like our geeky complaints had paid off. Good beer bars were serving draft beer at proper temperatures — or at least it was near enough that a couple of minutes of cupping a beer in your hands could get it into the right range. Cask-conditioned beers were served pleasantly cool at most places that knew what a cask was. But it seems like things are headed in the other direction now: temperatures are falling, and bars that should know better are serving colder and colder beers. It really struck me during this past fresh hop season, when the aromas and fresh flavors we’re looking for at that time were hidden under a blanket of cold.

What is happening? Are there so many other factors to worry about that bars have been distracted from caring for such an important aspect of the beer experience? Or is the importance of properly storing beer cold causing people to lose sight of the proper serving temperature? Whatever it is, I think it is time to revisit this question, and make sure we’re getting the best flavors we can.

A less understandable situation is the continued prevalence of the frosted pint glass. For this there is simply no excuse. When servers at a bar with 20 or 40 good beers on tap instinctively reach into the freezer whenever someone orders a pint of IPA, someone has fallen badly down on the job. The server should know better, but more importantly the management should make sure there aren’t even any chilled glasses to reach for. As I alluded to above, the impetus for this rant was a recent outing I took where a fresh-hop ale that I ordered was served in a glass with honest-to-God icicles on it. So not only was it going to take me 20 minutes or so to have beer at a temperature where I could enjoy the subtle fresh-hop flavors and aromas, but all that condensation on the glass was also diluting the beer. Who would want that?

If I’m sitting at the bar and alert enough to notice that my bartender is reaching into a refrigerator for a pint glass, I’ll interrupt them and say, “Do you have a room temperature glass?”. More often than not I get a blank look in return, and I have to explain “one that hasn’t been in the freezer”. The expression on the server’s face changes slowly from complete non-comprehension to mere befuddlement — this guy is turning down a frosty mug? — but at least I won’t get my tongue frozen to the glass on my first sip. Unless of course it’s a place where every beer is served in a pint glass, and every pint glass is stored in a cooler, in which case I’m out of luck. Thankfully that usually only happens in little restaurants which happen to have a few good taps but aren’t particularly focused on beer. Still, it shouldn’t happen anywhere.

Bar owners, here is your homework assignment: check your equipment to see if you’re serving beer too cold, and educate your servers about temperature ranges for various beer styles. Whatever you do, make sure good beer is not served in a chilled glass unless a customer requests that. Bar patrons: go forth and complain about frozen glassware and chilled beer. Don’t be afraid to say “My Beer Is Too Cold!”.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Bill Night

For the last several years Bill Night has been writing a Portland-centric beer blog called It’s Pub Night, named after the ritual weekly phone call or email rounding up friends for a night out: “Hey, it’s pub night!”. Despite his advanced age, he is lending a hand to the New School with a monthly rant called “Piss and Vinegar”. The name of the column comes from the British colloquial phrase “taking the piss” — making fun — and the sour character of Bill’s rants. He continues to maintain It’s Pub Night, and he invites you to take a look at some of the fun things over there, like the Beer Review Generator, the Portland Beer Price Index, and the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator.

admin
admin

Discussion

  • Dave Marliave
    Dave Marliave
    Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:06 PM

    My turn for a rant….Beer serving temp/ chilled glasses are one of the first things seasoned and novice beer geeks alike latch on too. Unfortunately, there a few things you and most others are missing.

    1: MOST beer needs to be stored cold. If I could, I would store my Kölsch at 30 even up until the moment it’s served. Cold storage preserves those oh so wonderful flavors and subtle volatiles you’re speaking of. Enter point two.

    2: The temperature of your glass in the absolute perfect situation will match the temperature of your cooler. In my case at Flat Tail I keep both my cooler and my glasses at 38. If you store your beer in a cooler at 45 degrees, firstly it won’t keep as well. Also, one can’t store food in that cooler as well, a necessity for most bars and pubs. Also, something very few people mention is that a cold beer (less than forty) going into a warm glass will foam more. Not only will that foam waste beer, the initial shock of rising temperature will release many of those precious volatiles you love so much.
    As if there need be more reasons for refrigerated glassware, can we please for a moment stop pretending like breweries and bars are not businesses that need to make a living?! What happens when we have a huge rush and there are 100 hot glasses, steaming fresh out of the dish washer? Would you prefer a 30 minute wait? I’m certain most yelp users wouldn’t… Lastly, while you may not give a shit about them, there are still those that prefer their beer good and cold. Is it the way I would prefer my beer consumed? Absolutely not, but the reason we craft brewers are so wonderful, and so different than the big guys, is that were supposed to brew beers that make people stoked, not convince people they’re stoked about our beers. YOU can warm a beer up. The guy sitting next to you that may or may not ever try another craft beer based on his experience can’t chill his glass down. So bill, do me a favor, and next time you get a cold beer in a cold pint, save the rant and have the patience to do YOUR duty as a craft beer aficionado and warm it up to your preferred temperature. Or, if you happen to be at my brewery, flag me down, and I’ll throw a glass in the microwave for you.

    • Bill Night
      Bill Night
      Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:24 PM

      Bravo, Dave! Good points, great rant. I can’t wait to get my glass microwaved.

      Can you point me to any quasi-scientific sources for these two claims? “a cold beer going into a warm glass will foam more” and “the initial shock of rising temperature will release many of those precious volatiles”. I don’t doubt you, I would just like to see more information about that.

      • Dave Marliave
        Dave Marliave
        Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:49 PM

        Absolutely Bill. With an emphasis on “quasi” of course! Ill use the old school method of VDK (Diacetyl) testing many small breweries use. When testing for VDK levels one of the best methods is filling a glass half full with very hot water, and dumping cold beer on top. It instantly volatilizes VDK and other compounds that may not be detected at colder temps. Also, CO2 in solution will rapidly come out of solution on increasing temperatures, resulting in carbonic acid remaining. I should also clarify that my, and many other breweries pints are not “ice” cold. Your rant becomes very valid if there are ice crystals on the glasses. I have personally uttered an “oh god dammit” or twenty on grasping a frozen pint. Cheers!

      • scott
        scott
        Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:57 PM

        Agree with Dave. At our pub we have to pour and store the beers at 39 degrees for the points Dave lists. We also have to do this because our line run from the cooler to the taps is more than 75 feet. If we raise the temp above 42 degrees the beers pour very foamy and we lose a ton of beer due to pour off. I’m sure there are many other bars that use their cooler for food storage or have a long line run to the taps.

        • Samurai Artist
          Samurai Artist
          Tue Oct 15, 2013 8:38 PM

          My 2 cents: The realities of having to use your cooler for food storage as well as beer justifies a colder pour. And yes it’s common serving knowledge that the high temperature differential between the beer and what it touches will cause foaming, that’s why you ice both the keg and the jockey box at a festival.

          But, I believe there is absolutely no justifiable reason for chilling your beer glasses. I dont think a room temp beer glass is going to ruin any volatile aroma especially when considering how the frozen temps would make them null to begin with.

          Dave, while I agree with most of your points I dont get his argument about having a rush and thus serving hot glasses. As a longtime beer bar bartender I have had to deal with the hot glass thing so many times, AND you should not put a hot glass into a cooler because you have a chance of shattering it. In some ways I have found the too hot glassware out of the dishwasher to be a BONUS because once you pour the beer into it after about 10 seconds the beer chills the glass to room temp or colder and the beer events out at a nice drinking temperature. Last resort, just run the glass under tap water and it becomes usable instantly.

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous
            Wed Oct 16, 2013 2:35 AM

            First world problems.

            • Dan
              Dan
              Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:35 PM

              good post. I doubt condensation is really “watering down your beer” much, though. LOL

              • Dan
                Dan
                Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:35 PM

                and good response from Flat Tail Dave.