Tasting Tuesday: Temperature and Tasting
Welcome to a new series called Tasting Tuesday! Every Tuesday I’m going to release a video and a short blog post that will give you a tip to make your life tastier. While the tasting tips will focus on beer, they are also useful for getting a deeper sensory experience out of things like wine, tea, coffee, and even olive oil.
This first Tasting Tuesday is focused on serving temperature.
Deciding on temperature is one of the first things you’ll do, before you even get to tasting, so it seems like the perfect place to start. To be clear, the ideal serving temperature range for beer is 38 to 44°F (~3-7°C) for *most* beers. (I’ll get into exceptions later!) For context a refrigerator is typically kept to about 40°F.
There are a few reasons for this range. The first is carbon dioxide (CO2) is more soluble the colder a water-based solution (aka beer!) gets. Beer that is properly bubbly and lively will come off the tap at about 38°F. As the beer warms CO2 will come out of solution and enter the atmosphere (this also has to do with the pressure the beer is under, but this is a temperature post. Not a pressure post.). That’s bad news for effervescent beverage lovers like myself but it’s actually okay news when it comes to tasting.
When the CO2 leaves solution it carries aroma compounds with it into the air over the glass. This makes getting those aroma compounds to your olfactory epithelium (the cluster of aroma receptors at the very top of the nasal cavity that communicate odor signals to your brain) quick and easy. Another way to spur the release the aromatic compounds is by swirling your glass which you’ll have to do more vigorously to free aroma from a very cold beer.
All of this releasing, or not releasing, of volatile compounds is why you’ll hear tasting instructors say a beer “is more expressive” as it warms, it is literally expelling (aka expressing) it’s flavor into the air!
So, onto the exceptions. You’ll often hear “cellar” temperature referred to in the world of beer serving. Cellar temperature ranges from 50 to 55°F, a temperature adopted from the wine caves in France. One beer style that is served at this temperature is cask ale, which has very low carbonation and is served via gravity or hand pump. These very English beers can be served just below “warm” because there is no carbonation to hold onto. They take a touch of getting used to but once you love ‘em…it’s a love to last a lifetime.
The second category of exceptions has to do with another impact serving temperature has on taste: the way our taste receptors respond to temperature. More intense beers, especially high ABV beers, may be served around 50°F in order to enhance some flavors and repress others. At colder temperatures a robust American barleywine will present as harshly bitter but as your taste buds (really your taste receptors housed within those taste buds) warm and begin to perceive sweetness more readily, the flavors balance out. What was once potent bitterness becomes complex and interesting on the palate.
Beer nerds aren’t the first beverage experts to moderate bitterness with temperature. Bitter, tannic red wines are served just under room temperature at 60 to 65 degrees for a reason! If you’re interested in some of the other effects non-taste stimulus have on our palate, this is a good book!
Determine What You’re Tasting for….Then Determine Temperature
So…what does this all mean for your tasting? First, if you’re having a beer to enjoy the experience, try sipping it straight from the fridge, or after warming unopened on the counter for just five minutes. Then, appreciate the experience as the flavor turns from cool and refreshing to less carbonated and more expressive.
If you’re tasting as a study tool, try letting the beers warm to 45 to 48-ish°F. In many testing situations flights must be poured, sometimes spiked, but at the very least double checked and distributed before they’re tasted. That means the beer is slightly warmed before you ever get your first sniff! (We’ll get into sniffing next week.) Take note of how different styles present body, especially carbonation at elevated temperatures. You may also notice that you perceive aromas and flavors of a style differently when the sample is above 45°F. I think witbiers have much more bready character when they are cold, as they warm the coriander and orange overwhelm the malt notes.
Finally, a last thing to note on temperature. It may seem obvious but the larger the sample, the slower it will warm. This is good for sipping a full pint outside in the summer, but bad when you have a 3oz sample as part of a six sample flight.
See you next week to talk sniffin!