Modern beer culture in America is centered around the image of an ice-cold can of light lager on a hot summer day. However, with the rise of craft beer enthusiasts and homebrewers, there has been a push to embrace a wider variety of contemporary and historical recipes, many of which are served very differently from traditional mass-market offerings.
Despite ingrained preferences for ice-cold beers, many full-bodied ales are best enjoyed at nearly room temperature. Since our ability to taste flavors varies by temperature, sweeter beers like barleywines and imperial stouts will be better when served at a warmer (60°F) temperature. Hoppy, bitter beers will be better at colder temperatures.
Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of drinking warmer beers. You just might discover a new way to enjoy your next homebrew!
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Is it okay to drink beer at room temperature?
In regards to safety, It is completely acceptable to drink beer at room temperature. Any safety concerns you might encounter when enjoying beer come down to production and storage conditions, not serving temperature.
When it comes to taste, the style of beer you choose will determine the best serving temperature and whether or not it will be good at room temperature. Recommended serving temperatures vary between different types of beer and serving practices.
Higher temperatures make many chemical compounds more volatile. Volatile compounds are more easily perceived as aromas and flavors, which is why we can smell hot coffee much more powerfully than unground beans. On the other hand, colder temperatures mute our ability to taste certain flavors: cold ice cream is perfectly balanced, but melted ice cream can often become sickly sweet.
When choosing a temperature for your beer, it’s important to recognize that our ability to taste different flavors doesn’t change equally at different temperatures: sweetness has the highest difference between hot and cold, followed by bitterness, and then sourness.
If you want to let the sweet malty aroma from barleywines, imperial stouts, and doppelbocks to bloom over the bitter base notes, you might want to follow expert recommendations and serve them just under room temperature, as warm as 60°F.
On the other hand, if you want to highlight the hoppy bitterness of an IPA or the carbonation from an American lager, it’s probably best to serve your drink at colder temperatures.
Generally, light-bodied, low-alcohol beers are best consumed cold, while heavier, darker drinks will taste more full and well-balanced at warmer temperatures.
Does warm beer get you drunk faster?
While many more alcoholic beers tend to be served near room temperature, you won’t get more drunk or drunk faster just by serving beer warm. Studies have shown no difference in individuals’ blood-alcohol levels after consuming alcoholic beverages at different temperatures.
The belief that warm alcohol will get you drunk faster comes from the volatile alcohol compounds. Since the flavor of alcohol becomes stronger at higher temperatures, it’s understandable – though untrue – that some would expect to feel its effects more powerfully.
Interestingly, the placebo effect of expecting a higher alcohol content can actually make you feel drunker. This can happen even if you know the science behind it, so if you want to fool your brain into experiencing greater effects from alcohol, warming your beer might actually make you feel drunker faster without raising your blood alcohol content.
Who drinks warm beer?
According to Jacob Grier, bartender and writer for the Atlantic, It was actually quite common to be served warmed ale during the cold winter months through the 19th century.
In fact, our preference for cold beer is actually quite a recent development.
Warm beer was said to aid digestion and even starred in many common recipes from warm porridges made from beer and grains to flip, a mixture of dark ale, rum, and sugar.
Warm beer fell out of fashion during the 20th century in part due to storage concerns. Beers stored at warm temperatures for extended periods of time could spoil, and the advent of mass-produced beer for large markets required cold temperatures for safe shipping and storage.
Some breweries like Cascade Brewing have begun experimenting with hot beer options, combining traditional knowledge with modern tastes if you prefer a more modern approach.
How long is beer good for at room temperature?
If you choose to store your beer unrefrigerated, you’ll want to make sure your beer is kept in a cool dark spot in your pantry since extended exposure to heat and light can produce some nasty off-flavors that can ruin your beer.
An unopened bottle of beer can last between 6-9 months at room temperature. The fridge will extend the shelf life to about two years.
Other factors that can affect the longevity of your beer are:
- Oxidation – Oxidation can produce cardboard flavors and sherry-like flavors. This occurs faster at higher temperatures and at higher pressures. Because air pressure naturally increases at higher temperatures, storing your beer in a hot place will dramatically increase the rate of oxidation. While this shouldn’t be too much of a problem at room temperature, the colder the beer the longer it will last.
- UV exposure – UV rays can break down alpha acids that react with hydrogen sulfide produced by yeast. This produces the chemical Mercaptan, the same chemical that skunks produce in their spray. This, not surprisingly, produces “skunky” beer. So if you’re worried about room temperature beer going bad, make sure to store your bottles in a dark place.
- Bacteria – Foreign yeasts and bacteria can produce sour or yeasty flavors. They will proliferate in room temperature beer if the beer is not pasteurized and the alcohol content is not high enough to kill off foreign bacteria introduced during the brewing process.
Can beer go from cold to warm back to cold?
Temperature cycling does not have anything to do with the quality of beer. This means that warming and cooling your beer will not affect the flavor or quality of your beverage.
That being said, if your beer is constantly changing temperature, it becomes increasingly likely that it will be exposed to sunlight or heat above room temperature, conditions which can ruin your beer.
Storing beer at warmer temperatures can result in higher oxidation levels, which can produce stale-tasting esters that can stick around even after the beer is returned to colder temperatures. Similarly, exposing glass bottles to sunlight can make your beer taste skunky.
These changes are the result of improperly storing your beer for extended periods of time, however, so if you accidentally left your beer on the counter, don’t be afraid to put it back in the fridge to enjoy later.
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