This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
This piece was written by Jack Muldowney.
One of the most important things to get right when it comes to beer is its temperature. There’s nothing sadder than an otherwise perfect brew ruined by less-than-ideal serving conditions. The best bartenders and brewpub managers have this down to an art, of course—that’s why they’re at the top of our list.
But what’s a dedicated beer drinker to do with all those bottles and cans at home? You should have the same great flavor experience at your house as you do from your favorite tap, right?
Proper beer storage is the key to a great drinking experience, and the right storage temperature will make any beer taste its best–whether your stocking up on beers in your basement bar or on your patio. That’s why we teamed up with NewAir to talk outdoor temperature control, with their new ‘Premiere Line Fridge’ – the NewAir 24” Built-in 160 Can Outdoor Fridge.
Here’s what you need to know to get the maximum flavor out of everything from a barleywine to a High Life…
Beer Storage Basics
Most craft brewers work really hard to get the perfect balance of flavors and aromas into the bottle and ship it out for drinking within a few months of purchase. While it’s totally possible to “age” a beer by cellaring it like wine, it’s not always necessary (or even recommended up to a certain date). So when we talk about storing beer, we’re dealing with keeping it fresh for its recommended shelf life—typically a few months to enjoy peak freshness, though an unopened beer can of a certain style last for a couple years if stored well.
To prevent flavor loss and make sure your beer tastes exactly like it should, you should keep the bottles at a steady 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is known as the “cellar temperature”—though you don’t need to have a cave in your basement to make this work. In fact, a well-designed beer fridge that allows you to keep the temperature in this range while protecting the bottles from damaging UV rays is perfect for long-term storage of your favorites.
And while storing beer on its side is often advised against, it’s typically a misconception. While you shouldn’t store beer other than upright for long periods of time (cellaring) for fear of leaking or yeast buildup on the vessel’s wall, it otherwise does nothing to affect your favorite brew; so long as you respect its time in the horizontal position in general.
Beer Serving Temperatures
Keeping all your beer chilled to at least 50 or 55 degrees will allow it to stay fresh for a good long while, but that’s not necessarily the optimum temperature for drinking. To get the full experience, you need to have the right balance of cool refreshment and the warmth that brings out the delicate balance of flavors and aromas. Freezing your tongue with an over-iced beer will kill your ability to enjoy it as it was meant to be tasted.
So what’s a beer aficionado to do? We think it’s easiest to store beer at the same temperature you wish to serve it so that it’s ready whenever you are. This is easily managed by adjusting the temperatures on your beer fridge based on the style of beer you keep in it. If you have a wide range of tastes, you may wish to invest in a cooler that has two zones, or in two small mini-fridges instead of one large one.
With Chicago al fresco hangouts in mind, we chose to go after a fridge that allows maximum storage + temperature control–no matter the weather–with the NewAir 24” Built-in 160 Can Outdoor Fridge. As part of their new premiere line of outdoor fridges, this model is ideal for housing beers fit for thirst-quenching warmer months–lagers, pale ales, hazies, etc.–but still allows room for larger format bottles, crowlers or growlers too.
Should you find that you prefer this in your home bar, and not out in the elements as it was intended; no sweat. Unlike many outdoor fridges, this one’s sleek enough to reside inside as well. Plus, it is energy efficient. So, store your long-term beer cellar inside if you prefer.
With all that in mind, we’ll move on, to discuss the ideal storage temperatures for your whole beer collection…
We’ll start with the beers that taste best ice-cold and move into warmer climates (all discussed in terms of Fahrenheit, of course).
35 to 40 Degrees (Macros)
This is very cold—almost tongue-numbing. The only beers that you should keep on ice or in your food fridge are mass-market drinks like Bud and Coors. This also works for non-alcoholic beers, too. We’re not saying that you need to deaden your taste buds to drink these beers, but we’re not not saying that, either.
40 to 50 Degrees (Wheat Beers & Pilsners)
This is still noticeably cold, but it’s not icy. This temperature is for light-bodied wheat beers and German pilsners that are meant to go down easy. Cold temperatures also make sense for craft beers with fruit flavors—think summer specials. You could also chill a pale lager to this level, but be careful not to go too cold or you might flatten out the complexity.
45 to 50 Degrees (IPAs & Lagers)
IPAs of all nationalities belong in this temperature range. The colder the temperatures, the more bitterness you’ll taste, be careful. If you’re storing an extra-hoppy pale ale, you’ll want to serve it on the warm end of this range. (Of course, if you love the pucker, you can adjust to your own taste.) Many lagers do well in this range, too.
45 to 55 Degrees (Porters & Stouts)
Porters and stouts usually present a balanced flavor profile that blend the bitterness of hops with the sweetness of malt. These brown beers also tend to have a higher alcohol content, which means you can store and serve them at higher temperatures than an IPA — but they should be well under room temperature.
50 to 55 Degrees (Sours & Bocks)
As a rule of thumb, ales should be served warmer than lagers to allow all their complexity to come through on the palate. This includes sour ales and bocks. They have an even higher alcohol content and can therefore stand up to storage at 55 degrees without off-flavors.
55 to 60 Degrees (Barleywines & Strong Ales)
High-alcohol beers like strong ales, imperial stouts and barleywines can last for years without much chill—it’s what they were designed to do in the days before refrigeration. They are best served just slightly under room temperature.
A Few Final Notes…
Did you notice that we’re not recommending any beer be stored or served at room temperature? That’s because, as modern people, we have pretty high expectations for comfort in the winter, and room temperature has crept up and up over the years. You probably keep your living room at around 72 degrees—positively balmy conditions to the brewers of the Middle Ages or even a century ago. For this reason, it’s no longer accurate to say that a beer is best stored or served at room temperature, unless you live in an igloo. Keep your beers chilled to an old-fashioned beer cellar temperature—it’s usually about 50 degrees year-round underground—and you’ll be much closer to the mark.
It’s also good to remember that your beer will warm up gradually as it sits in the glass. To allow for a longer sipping session, it makes sense to pour it on the colder end of your preferred range so you can enjoy it as it slowly warms. Real beer geeks will note the changes in flavor as this happens, and if you take notes, you can adjust your storage temperature to keep any beer at your preferred temperature—we call that the perfection point, and it’s definitely within your reach when you know what you’re doing.
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Photography by Studio Malt for The Hop Review. This feature was done in partnership with NewAir Beverage Refrigerators.