The Difference Between Chilled and Ice Cold Beer
As Thomas Rhett and Jon Pardi sing, there's nothing that a beer can't fix. Correction: There's nothing that a cold beer can't fix!
No one wants to crack open a nice warm beer, but have you ever stopped to think about just how frigid you'd like yours to be? Is chilled beer the same as ice cold? If not, what's the difference?
You might not have given much thought to this question, but the reality is that the temperature of your beer matters more than you might think. To complicate matters even more, certain types of beer taste better in slightly different temps.
Confused? Intrigued? Either way, get out your favorite brew and let's dive in.
Why Does Beer Temperature Matter?
When you're reaching for a beer, it's easy to assume that ice cold is the ideal temperature for your beverage to be. Most of us don't pay much mind to the specific way our beers feel, as long as they're not anywhere near tepid.
However, it's important to think about the unique makeup and flavor profile of each beer. If you want to showcase the best characteristics of a light lager, for instance, then ice cold is absolutely the way to go. However, there are other types of beer that taste even better when they're just one level colder -- chilled.
Think about it: Each beer is brewed in a distinct way, following a tailored set of specifications. As such, there isn't a one-size-fits-all standard temperature that all beers should be when you drink them. If you want to get the most out of your drinking experience, you'll need to take a second to consider the unique features of your beer, and let that guide how you drink it.
Chilled vs. Ice Cold: What's the Difference?
When it comes to cold beers, there are two basic levels you need to know: chilled and ice cold. On the surface, these two sound pretty similar. Yet, it's the slight nuance that makes the biggest difference.
Anything that's "chilled" has been deliberately made colder. For instance, you chill your beers when you take them out of the carton and put them into the refrigerator.
On the other hand, ice cold denotes more of an in-the-moment type of chilliness. You might have made a cooler of ice, and added the beers to it a few hours before. They're now cold, but they aren't as cold as a beer would be if you chilled it overnight in the fridge.
Of the two, "chilled" is usually slightly colder than just ice cold. It's been at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, and will likely stay cold longer, too.
What Happens When Beer Is Too Hot or Too Cold?
Why are we taking so much time to explain such a small variation? Temperature is significant because it affects many different parts of the beer, including:
- How it tastes
- How it feels when you drink it
- How strongly its unique components come through
Once you understand how to drink your favorite beer, you can enjoy it that much more. That said, it's easy to get it wrong. You might not notice it when you do, but after this section, we'll bet you can tell the difference.
It's usually pretty easy to tell when your beer isn't cold enough. No one wants warm beer, but there's actually a science behind why it tastes so awful.
Lower temperatures decrease the carbonation in your beverage. They also reduce the bitterness of the hops, so they taste milder. The result is a beer that's not only flat but downright undrinkable.
While you might not be able to stomach the idea of downing a warm one, we should note that it's easier to notice and appreciate the aromas and flavors of your brew when it's not freezing cold.
Have you ever stuck a beer in the freezer, thinking you'll take it out in a few minutes after it's had time to get cold? Then, you inevitably forget it and you're left with a frozen beer explosion that you simply can't salvage.
It might be hard to believe, but there is such a thing as getting your beer too cold. Freezing mishaps aside, you might not even need to get your beer as cold as you once thought.
Ice water can be served at near-freezing temps and never lose its appeal. However, beer is full of complex flavors and aromas that tend to dissipate the colder they go.
If you want the accurate taste and scent to come through, it's best to keep your beer chilled, but not overly so. In some cases, you could even worsen the flavor by getting it too cold. The lower you go, the more dry, bitter, and carbonated your beer will seem.
Is There a Goldilocks Temperature?
In a perfect world, there would be one temperature that would work for all beers. While this isn't the case, there are some rules you can follow to help your beers taste great without sacrificing their features and characteristics.
First, know the temperature range. All beers, no matter the type, should be served between 38 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next, understand the warming effect. When you wrap your hands around a beer (even if it has a koozie!), you naturally warm it up just a little. As such, try to get your beer about two degrees colder than it needs to be before you're ready to enjoy it or serve it to others.
Other guidelines include:
- Weaker beers should be colder than strong beers
- Lagers should be colder than ales
- Light beers should be colder than dark beers
Specific Serving Temperatures to Know
Those rules are a good place to start, but don't stop there! Whether you're used to lighter, lawnmower beers or you love kicking back with a heavy stout, it's helpful to know the exact temperature they should be.
Let's break it down!
Light Lagers and Micro Lagers
Ah, light lagers! You can get these as cold as you want without freezing them, all the way down to 33 degrees Fahrenheit! This is about the temperature of most average refrigerators.
This is why most people just store their favorite microbrews right in the fridge. That way, they're always nearby when it's time to sit back and enjoy.
You can go up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit without sacrificing the flavor and aroma of most light beers, and 36 to 38 Fahrenheit is actually preferred. Remember the warming effect, though?
If you want your light beer to be at the perfect temperature, store it in the fridge and hold it for a little while before taking that first sip. Your hands will naturally add a few degrees and it should be just right.
Pilsners are usually enjoyed right from the tap, and that's for a reason. These taste best around 38 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and many breweries keep their draft systems within this range.
Once your hands hold the pilsner glass, they add just the right amount of warmth! If you're enjoying a pilsner or pale lager at home, give it a little time to warm up as you would with a light lager.
Sours are like IPAs when it comes to temperature. These can come in many different types and forms, including:
There is also a wide range of fruited sours to consider, as well. Most of these beers taste best between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A distinctively sour beer, like a gose, shouldn't go as high as 50 degrees. Containing coriander and salt, it has a unique salinity that requires special consideration and treatment.
As their name implies, blonde ales are known for their light body and taste. These can be served relatively cold, at a temperature of 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most wheat beers, including American wheat ales and Belgian-style wits, are fine to serve at around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. While you can go a little higher with a hefeweizen, try not to exceed 50 degrees.
IPAs, NEIPAs, and Pale Ales
Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) and New England IPA (NEIPAs), like the Claremont Baseline Double India Pale Ale, are a little tricky when it comes to the perfect serving temperature. These tend to vary greatly, so your best bet is to check the brewer's recommendations.
If these beers get too chilled, they'll lose their trademark tropical appeal. Both IPAs and NEIPAs are known for their citrus-forward flavors and bright aromas, and you want to enjoy all of it to its fullest extent! Usually, 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit is an appropriate range.
Conversely, standard pale ales tend to have a more balanced body and bitterness, with a more pronounced maltiness. As such, you can go a little higher with these. While most pale ales are fine served between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, add about five degrees for heavier, darker, English-style versions.
Most dark lagers are best served at slightly warmer temperatures, around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. These include:
- Amber lagers
- Marzen-style lagers
- Vienna-style lagers
- Oktoberfest lagers
For lagers that are even stronger (think dunkels and doppelbocks), you can go a little warmer, inching the temp up to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Belgian-style brews are yeasty and malty, which is a big part of their delicious appeal. To drink these as they were meant to be enjoyed, aim for a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a good rule of thumb for strong beers like quadrupels and dubbels (like the Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Ale) but tripels require special consideration because they aren't quite as dark.
Lighter, paler, and even spicier, tripels should be kept a little colder, at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stouts and Porters
Many people prefer stouts, porters, and black ales for their distinct, robust flavors. These beers often feature notes of coffee, nuts, and chocolate, which makes them perfect for those chilly winter months! The Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout is a prime example.
To help these flavors stand out, serve these dark beers around 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher you go in this range, the more pronounced the characteristics of each beer will be. Treating this as a stone cold beer will mute the flavor and dampen the experience.
The only exception would be nitro stouts, which contain nitrogen gas and less carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. You can serve those a little colder, at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Long Does It Take to Chill a Beer?
After reading this list, have you realized that it's time to put some of your favorite beers in the fridge to get them to the desired temperature?
The good news is that most room-temperature beers will chill to around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (a common drinking temperature) in about seven to eight hours. However, the specific timeline depends on a few different factors, including:
- The size of the beer bottle or can
- The amount of alcohol in the beer
- The amount of sugar in the beer
- The starting temperature of the beer
- The exact type of beer
- The average temperature of your refrigerator
Need to get there quicker? You can pop your beer in the freezer, but remember to take it out soon! Most room-temp beer will reach drinking temperature after about 40 minutes in the freezer.
Remember, though: Beer is mostly water. It will freeze when it reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and we don't have to tell you what happens next. If you really need to get your beers cold in a hurry, try adding ice, cold water, and a good amount of salt (about a cup) to a bucket.
The salt reduces the freezing point of the water, allowing it to go colder than 32 degrees. This increases the heat transfer from the bottles and helps them get colder, faster.
Enjoy a Cold Beer Today
Didn't expect a science lesson in this post, did you? While this kind of information can be a little dense to process, it's invaluable once you know how to use it to your advantage.
There's a fine line between cold beer and chilled beer, and striking that balance is key to optimizing your drinking experience. Thankfully, we're here to keep you well-stocked, no matter which types of brews you enjoy.
At Liquorama, we have all the wine, liquor, and beer you need to keep your cabinets well-stocked. Check out all of our offerings today and contact us with any questions.