Given that the British tend to drink their beer at a higher temperature than those of us in the US, should beer brewed in an English style be consumed that way? The justification I can think of is: the people developing the taste of the beer probably consumed it at a certain temperature, which might have not been the ice-cold levels that predominate in the Colonies.
Serving temperature is, of course, a preference. Serve it frozen or boiling if you want. However, a few opinions are:
- CAMRA says that Real Ale (aka cask ale, usually english-style) should be served at 12-14 °C (54-57 °F), which is colder than room temperature, but warmer than your usually keg beer.
- Ratebeer says the same thing regardless of whether it’s cask or not.
- BeerAdvocate says 7-10 °C (45-50 °F) for an english bitter.
So, if you’re looking for a rule of thumb: “cool but not super-cold” or “cellar temp” will probably get you close enough.
There may be a general consensus for the "proper" serving temperature, which could involve questions like "what do most people seem to like?", and "what temperature does the brewer feel best accentuates the parts of the beer they want to highlight?". So there are good reasons for beer to be served at particular temperatures. In the case of your British bitters, age-old recipes were probably designed to allow the beer to taste its best at room temperature. As for a modern British beer, I suppose that would depend on what the brewer had in mind.
That said, my general thought is that you should drink a beer at the temperature you most like it, so the should part of your question is self-determined, and don't let anyone tell you that your taste buds are wrong.
Myself, I tend to like my American IPAs cooler than the typical recommended serving temperature. And before I visited the UK, I couldn't stand a room temperature beer. Then, after a week in Tunbridge Wells, I picked up a large appreciation for hand-pumped UK beer, served at room temp. So you should open yourself to trying new things as well.
Just like everyone else said, it's a preference. I alway say that the darker the beer, the warmer it has to be, so here are my rules:
- Light beer/White beer/Kriek: In the fridge and goes in the freezer for a couple of minutes before serving
- Golden beer: In the fridge
- Amber beer: In the fridge and stay at room temperature for a couple of minutes before serving
- Dark beer: At room temperature and goes in the fridge before serving
- Stout: At room temperature at all time.
It's always going to be a matter of preference. I prefer most beers around 55-60 but do not hesitate to drink beer at room temperature. Some styles are more enjoyable approaching room temperature.
Historically, most beer was served at cellar temperature to room temperature, depending upon what was available. That isn't just an English tradition. Any beer can be consumed warm and drinking it ice cold as mass produced lagers are usually served tends to hide most of the flavor that you are paying for in a good beer. Give it a try and see what you like. Maybe you don't like your beer a little warmer. Enjoy what you like.
The basic rule is that beers should be served at the temp they were fermented. Lagers should be served at about 40°F and ales around 50°F - 55°F. Having said this I usually like my beers a little colder on a warm summer day. Try this experiment:
- chill your beer to 35°F - 40°F and pour about 2/3 of it into the proper glass for that beer.
- Drink at least 4 or 5 sips, gulps, or however you typically consume it.
- Then put what is left in the microwave for about 20 seconds (time will vary with the output of the microwave). This will reduce the carbonation some so pour the other third right in the middle of the glass without tipping the glass to get some head, on the beer that is.
It makes a big difference on some beers. less on others. Also try different types of glasses and see what you like. Remember, everybody's palates are different and yours will vary depending on several factors such as, what you've been eating or drinking, how much beer you've already consumed, and how tired you are. It's a good idea to eat a bite or two of good bread like a baguette to cleanse your palate between samples. The above does not apply to mass produced lagers.
First, let's say there is what is considered "proper", and then there is personal-preference. To be a good Cicerone, know what is "proper" but also show tolerance for personal preference.
With that out the way, it's definitely considered the "proper" thing to do to serve English beers warmer than ice-cold. Many of the delicate malty flavours you get from English malt, the fruitiness from esters produced by the English yeast, plus grassy, herbal or floral tones from the hops are muted greatly when the beer is served too cold.
Some people say it's served at room room temperature. Modern room temperature of around 20°C/68°F is too warm. The ideal serving temperature is a cold cellar - typically around 12°C;55°F.