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Marshall's Alexander tells a tale of (too) cold beer

Nick Trougakos Published: July 11, 2013

Marshall Brewing Co.’s Wes Alexander put pen to paper — OK, fingers to keyboard — for an interesting and informative take on America’s obsession with beer that is so cold you can’t even taste it. Give it a read:

“With summer temps finally here in Oklahoma, I was recently asked about the coldest place to get draft beer in Tulsa. Ice cold beer is a cultural phenomenon that I believe started in the U.S. Why? Below are my musings.

“The correct temperature for serving beer is 38 degrees. The reason is more technical and due to draft systems, not necessarily the proper temps for tasting. At temps above 38 degrees, carbonation will come out of solution in beer, resulting in foam at the tap. Ever been to a keg party, where the keg is iced down and the hand pump just pours foam? This is due to the CO2 coming out of solution.

“The problem with serving beer very cold is that colder temps prevent flavor receptors on the tongue from picking up certain characters. Many beers are a balance of hops and malt. Hops provide some bitter and flavor character, while malts provide bread- or cereal-like sweetness. At colder temps, balanced beer will be overwhelmingly bitter, as the sweeter character will not be detected until the beer warms. (Think red wine that is too cold and tastes highly tannic.) Most American macro-lagers are not affected by colder temps. Given that the largest percentage of beer served in the U.S. is macro-brewed, there is a perception that colder is better. In this case, I believe that cold

is associated more with refreshing than flavor.

“For folks who like their beer this cold at home or at the lake, add some dry ice to the ice chest. This will result in a beersicle.

“My personal opinion is that beer culture in the U.S. is changing due to the growth of the craft beer industry, with its small, independent and traditional approach to brewing. The frosty-mug mentality is frowned on by much older European brewing cultures for reasons of flavor. I blame Prohibition for the growth of this mentality. In the 1900s, with the U.S. as a melting pot, we were attracting brewers from around the world, bringing skill, knowledge, ingredients and recipes to the U.S. It has been estimated that prior to Prohibition, there were 2,800 breweries in the U.S. Literally a brewery in every town and village.

“It is my opinion that we were on the verge of being the best brewing culture on the planet. However, Prohibition pulled the plug on the culture. As a result, beer was off the palates of Americans for 13 years. With the repeal of Prohibition, breweries came back to life, but found that their audience had changed. During Prohibition, soda or soft drinks become the most popular beverage amongst Americans, who developed palates favoring sweet, cold, and over-carbonated beverages. As a result, breweries moved to a lighter, slightly sweet, highly carbonated American lager. This style of beer is not intended to be complex and does not contain flavors that develop at warmer temps. As a result, a culture was built with a thirst for ice-cold beer.

“For more information, read “Frosted Glassware is not Cool,” by Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.”

Thanks for sharing, Wes. Remember people — keep it cool, but not too cool.