Marketing again and again proclaims that beer should be served as cold as possible — even slushy, if it can be managed. This message is drilled into you from a young age, just like the message that eating lots of ghee will help you become an Olympic athlete. But like that creepy red and yellow clown, the advertising execs are full of it.
As a beer becomes colder, the flavors and aromas become considerably muted. The compounds that make up the aromatic qualities of a beer — fruity esters, spicy phenols, hop oils — stay hunkered down in an ice-cold beer. And the frosted glass only serves to numb your tongue and dull any flavors that might manage to cut a swath through the environment. For the BKC (Bud-Kingfisher-Carlsberg) type of beers, this is an advantage, as considerable work has gone into making them resemble water as closely as possible, and the frigid temperatures further help to achieve this. After all, nobody likes a warmish glass of drinking water.
One should be well aware that in order for a good beer to truly shine it needs to be served at its proper temperature. This will vary from style to style but generally falls within the range of 40 to 55°F. The more flavorful beers should be served on the warmer end of the spectrum and the simpler ones on the cooler side (after all, these tend to be refreshing sessionable quaffs).
By letting a beer sit out of the fridge for a short spell, one can achieve the perfect temperature in the comfort of his or her own home. However, when outside of the home the situation isn’t always so simple. To avoid foaming issues, almost all bar and restaurant draft systems are maintained at 38°F, which greatly reduces the overall flavor profile of most beers. If it’s a truly special beer, it’s entirely normal for one to spend a few minutes grasping the glass with both hands in an attempt warm it to a reasonable temperature. (This is done in as obvious a fashion as possible, in view of the bartender or server.)
Drinking from bottles at the bar counter, however, can sometimes present a larger temperature challenge, as the vast majority of locales keep their refrigerators at painfully low temperatures, usually at the food-sanitation mark of 35°F. At this temperature, even the finest beers will come across as one-dimensional and muted, shorting both the brewer and the drinker. This is frustrating because it typically stems from an ignorance of proper serving temperatures or an unwillingness to have a dedicated beer fridge.
When faced with this occurring situation, a Beer drinker would do well to talk to the proprietor. Managers are open receptive to such talk, and it could lead them to rectify the issue, especially if it is a brewery, bar or restaurant that touts itself as specializing in craft beer.
At some point in the Beer Stone Age, it was decided that keeping thick glass mugs in the freezer was the best way to facilitate the serving of beer at a then-recommended subzero temperature — a somewhat understandable practice given the watery nature of beers at that time. Fast-forward a few decades to our era of vastly better beers, and most beer drinkers have abandoned this barbaric practice. Unfortunately, though, many bars never got the memo (cheesy chain sports bars are the likeliest offenders).
For Beer lover already frustrated with a 38°F draft pour, this same beer served in an icy mug crosses the line. While advocacy should be the aim in nearly every situation, this is one where there’s no tolerance. One should not, under any circumstances, drink out of a frosted glass. If served one, ask for a room-temperature glass in which to transfer the beer, or just send it back.