Monday, September 24, 2018

What Impact Temperature?

While drinking the Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale used for last week's "Old Friends" post, I tweeted the following:



Having tweeted out this minor rantette, I decided that in the interests of science I would conduct a little experiment. Earlier that day I had purchased one of Sierra Nevada's Fall Packs, containing three bottles a piece of Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale, Torpedo Extra IPA, Vienna Lager, and Ruthless Rye IPA. I put a couple of bottles of Tumbler into the wine cooler, which sits at 54°F (12°C), and the third bottle in the fridge, at about 40°F (4.5°C), and there they remained for a week.

Yesterday I pulled the beers from their cool places in order to do a comparative tasting, though again in the interests of science I wanted to make sure that the same process was followed for both glasses of beer. As such I used the same US pint glass for both beers, washed between pints and allowed to settle back to room temperature. This decision was a sop to the kind of people that would claiming using different glasses would have impacted the aromas and flavours - I have done a mass experiment on this before and concluded that different glassware is largely irrelevant, other that parting a fool from his cash.

I also decided that I would leave an hour between drinks, and have a goodly amount of water to cleanse the old palate in order to avoid recency bias of the taste buds. First up then was the bottle that had been sat in the fridge.


The beer poured a rich chestnut brown, deeply luxuriant, and capped with a healthy half inch or so of dark ivory foam, too pale to be light brown, too dark to be plain ivory. The head just sat there, and sat there, and sat there, leaving a delicate lacing down the glass. The aromas coming through the head were lightly toasted bread, a bit of medium roast coffee, but mostly it was the smell of a pub carpet. I realise that sounds unappetising, but it is a smell that reminds me of going to the bar in the Sergeants' Mess when I was a kid, before dad would give us a stack of 10p pieces and tell us to bugger off to the pool room while the adults drank. The overwhelming taste was a nutty, medium dark chocolatey thing that was smooth with a roastiness that never bordered on the acrid, brought back in to focus with a clean hop bite. With the fridge beer thoroughly enjoyed, I cleaned out the glass and set it to one side for an hour.


After a hour of playing with my twin sons, and generally romping in domestic bliss, I came back to the experiment and poured the cellar temperature bottle of Tumbler into the now dry and room temperature glass. Again the beer was a rich chestnut brown, though as I poured there was a significantly bigger head, about an inch and a half, but it settled down to about the same half inch as previously, again lingering for the duration of the drinking, leaving a marginally more impressive lacing. The aroma was that of freshly baked bread, sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, and a subtle floral hop thing going on. Missing entirely was the smell of a freshly opened boozer. This time the beer tasted of rich chocolate, with a light coffee roastiness, and the hop bite came with an earthy spiciness that didn't seem to be there in the fridge version.

This experiment was not about trying to prove that cellar temperature beer tastes better than refrigerated beer, but about the sensory differences induced by temperature. The colder beer had a smoother mouthfeel, as the hop bite evident in the cellar temperature version was missing almost completely. The cellar temperature had more pronounced malt flavours, not different, just deeper, and the body was fuller, perhaps rounder than the refrigerated one. One thing I wasn't really expecting was that the cellar temperature beer seems to have a more evident carbonation that the fridge one, which may explain the elevated hop character in that version. I wonder what impact being bottle conditioned had on the experiment, and perhaps I will perform the same experiment again with force carbonated beers.


One thing that was certainly clear from this experiment is that Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale is an excellent beer, and was perhaps just the right beer for this experiment on a dreich afternoon. In my excitement each year for the new Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, I have overlooked what was once my favourite autumn beer, what a foolish thing to do. Perhaps brown ales are once again due their moment in the limelight, preferably without silly shit and fripperies to keep the trendseekers happy, just good old fashioned brown ale, as brown ale should be.

2 comments:

  1. Its too bad that homebrew (and maybe professional brew) competitions can't optimize beer temps at time of tasting (based on style.)

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  2. Final conclusion is on point. I may have to pick up some Tumbler soon.

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