As an Englishman living in North America I’m constantly the brunt of jokes about warm beer. Everyone here seems to think that Brits love to drink their beer luke warm, like it’s some sort of filthy sin akin to eating a deep-fried mars bar. I always just laugh and play along, but god damn it, it’s not that we like to drink out beer warm, we just don’t like to chill it to sub-zero temperatures until it no longer has any flavour!
I know people who will put their beer in the freezer for an hour after purchase, at the the risk of causing the bottle to explode, all for the pleasure of a frosty cold one. But here is the thing: if you cool drink your beer too cold, you loose all of the delicate aromatics.
Sure, some beers should be served chilled, but many benefit from being served at cellar or even room temperature. It’s like the difference between storing white and red wine. Or better still vodka vs. whisky—vodka goes in the fridge, while whiskey is stored at room temperature. If you chill whiskey, you loose all of the aromatics, and don’t get me started on putting ice in whiskey…
Some beers, i.e., the ones you don’t actually want to taste are best served ice cold, while some special ales are even served warm like mulled wine! However most good beer is best served between 4° C and room temperature. As a rule of thumb, lighter beers are best served cold, while darker beers are best served a little warmer. English bitter actually falls somewhere in the middle, being best served at cellar temperature, which is between 8-12C.
So where does this idea of super chilled beer come from? Big beer! They don’t want you to actually taste their lackluster beer, so they want you to chill it until you can’t taste anything. It’s brilliant marketing and is now so thorough ingrained in North American culture that most people can’t even contemplate not refrigerating their beer.
During the summer I tend to keep my beer in the fridge and remove it before drinking to allow it to warm a bit, whereas in the winter I store it in the cupboard then put bottles in the fridge for a bit to cool a little.
There are many lists of serving temperatures available online, but I found this incredibly comprehensive breakdown on ratebeer.com.
Very cold (0-4° C/32-39° F): Pale Lager, Malt Liquor, Canadian-style Golden Ale and Cream Ale, Low Alcohol, Canadian, American or Scandinavian-style Cider.
Cold (4-7° C/39-45° F): Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, Kölsch, Premium Lager, Pilsner, Classic German Pilsner, Fruit Beer, brewpub-style Golden Ale, European Strong Lager, Berliner Weisse, Belgian White, American Dark Lager, sweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Duvel-types
Cool (8-12° C/45-54° F): American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, California Common, Dunkelweizen, Sweet Stout, Stout, Dry Stout, Porter, English-style Golden Ale, unsweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Faro, Belgian Ale, Bohemian Pilsner, Dunkel, Dortmunder/Helles, Vienna, Schwarzbier, Smoked, Altbier, Tripel, Irish Ale, French or Spanish-style Cider
Cellar (12-14° C/54-57° F): Bitter, Premium Bitter, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, English Pale Ale, English Strong Ale, Old Ale, Saison, Unblended Lambic, Flemish Sour Ale, Bière de Garde, Baltic Porter, Abbey Dubbel, Belgian Strong Ale, Weizen Bock, Bock, Foreign Stout, Zwickel/Keller/Landbier, Scottish Ale, Scotch Ale, American Strong Ale, Mild, English-style Cider
Warm (14-16° C/57-61° F): Barley Wine, Abt/Quadrupel, Imperial Stout, Imperial/Double IPA, Doppelbock, Eisbock, Mead
Hot (70° C/158° F): Quelque Chose, Liefmans Glühkriek, dark, spiced winter ales like Daleside Morocco Ale.