The serving temperature of cask beer is a perennial source of complaint. On the one hand, many people such as Martin Taylor report frequent instances of being served lukewarm beer that has been festering in the pipe and has all the appeal of dishwater. This is something that has also often been highlighted by Tandleman.
But, on the other hand, you also often hear about cask beer being served chilled down to lager temperature, which knocks all the flavour out of it. And. a while back. Cask Marque were widely criticised for apparently not applying any lower temperature threshold to their beer assessments, resulting in plenty of ice-cold pints being given their seal of approval. They no longer do this, if indeed they ever actually did.
So I thought it would be interesting to run a poll on people’s experience of encountering beer than they thought was too warm, or too cold. The results show a wide divergence of opinion, with “a bit too warm” and “a bit too cold” neck-and-neck, although rather more felt that warm pints were much more prevalent than those who found the same with cold ones. Overall, 44% went for “usually too warm”, 18% for “about the same”, and 37% for “usually too cold”.
Maybe this reflects not so much personal preference as different patterns of pubgoing, with those choosing “too warm” more likely to be visiting pubs at slack times when the beer is not turning over, while those plumping for “too cold” drinking more in busy pubs where the beer is gushing forth from a chilled cellar.
The general view of the correct serving temperature for cask beer is somewhere within the range of 10-14°C, with 12-13° being the ideal. This represents a natural cellar temperature and will result in beer that is noticeably cool, but not lager-cold. Too cold, and the beer loses its flavour, and may throw a chill haze; too warm, and it starts to lose its condition and becomes dull and flabby.
I think over the years I’ve developed a good appreciation of what the correct temperature should be, and so can roll my eyes when other CAMRA members complain that beer I think is fine being “too cold”. Often they’re the same people who dismiss beer with decent condition as being “fizzy”. Up to a point it can be argued this is a matter of personal preference, but if you really see flat, room-temperature beer as desirable then frankly you don’t know what you’re talking about.
My personal experience is definitely that I come across a lot more warm pints than cold ones, but I would say more often than not I come into the category of the slack times pub visitor. It must be said, though, that on my recent trip to the South-West, where you might expect warm beer to be commonplace, especially when on gravity dispense, that only one out of ten pubs visited didn’t dish up a pint at a decent temperature – and that was by some way the most expensive of the lot. I also recently visited a pub in the North where obviously I was the first one to order cask beer that session, as a generous amount of pulling-through resulted in a pint that was far too cold and not enjoyable at all.
However, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember than a cold pint can warm up, but a warm one can never cool down, so, while obviously best to get the temperature spot-on, it’s preferable to err slightly on the side of too cool than too warm.