You’ve seen the ads: a frosty fridge, condensation dripping down a bottle, beer poured into an icy glass. In Australia, beer is served cold, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

Not necessarily, says Shayne Dixon, co-owner of Melbourne bottle shop, bar and beer “tasting room” BeerMash. “It’s important to drink a beer at the right temperature so you aren’t missing out on [flavours] or getting the wrong impression.”

With all the styles and varieties of beer available these days, Dixon says drinkers have ample opportunity to experiment with beers at slightly warmer temperatures. A milder temperature allows drinkers to more accurately experience the beer’s subtleties. “I would definitely prefer to have warmer beer if I was critiquing it,” says Dixon. “It means you’re getting more from it.”

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When talking beer temperature, “warm” doesn’t mean popping it in the microwave. “[It] isn’t warm in the sense of you’d set your heating to warm,” says Dixon. “It’s warm in comparison to the cooler serving temperatures of lagers.”
As a rule of thumb, he suggests that the darker malts in beers such as stouts or dark English-style ales usually indicate they will benefit from time outside the fridge.

“I find serving a stout or a dark beer at that slightly warmer temperature really helps to open up the flavour and the aromatics,” says Dixon. “If you serve it at a cool temperature, you won’t get the aromatics. The coldness hides them.”

Higher alcohol-content styles are best suited to being served slightly warmer. “As a general rule, the higher the alcohol, the warmer the serving temperature,” says Dixon. “It’s an easy thing to remember. With things like barley wines [a high-alcohol beer style] you can serve them up around 12–13 degrees Celsius.”

Most bottled beers are served around 4–6 degrees Celsius, but Dixon points out many pubs serve draught lagers on taps so cold “the fonts and taps freeze up”. He says there’s a place for that, “but if a lager warms up and still tastes great, then it’s a sign it’s well balanced and doesn’t contain any faults”.

As awareness of different beer styles grows, Dixon foresees bars will start adopting different temperatures for different taps. “[NZ brewery] Garage Project, in Wellington, are an example, and pair their beers with a menu broken down into serving temperatures.

Next time you spend your hard-earned on a selection of nice beers, keep in mind that it might not always be best to go straight from fridge to glass. Try letting your beer sit for a few minutes. It might make a world of difference.

This article is part of Broadsheet’s Craft Beer Quarterly, produced in partnership with James Squire.