Nothing’s better than an ice-cold beer at the end of a hard day, right? Not if you actually want to taste it, argues Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel, who spoke to beer consultant and educator Gary Valentine. Among other Chicago-area restaurants, Valentine has worked on the beer lists for Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat and Little Goat.

Valentine spelled it out:

“If I’m drinking a High Life, I want it to be cold because I don’t want to taste it. Otherwise, if you have a beer you want to taste, it should be above at least 43 degrees.”

Let’s break it down with this CraftBeer.com infographic.

beer serving temperature

Photo: CraftBeer.com

Rules of temperature and flavor hold true for beer like they do for anything else. The colder something is, the more your palate chills, and the stronger flavors have to be for you to taste them. That’s the same reason melted ice cream tastes much different than it does when it’s still easily spoonable—when it comes to flavor, temperature changes everything.

Noel’s solution is ordering two beers at once when he goes to bars and restaurants. The first beer is always something best served cold, while the second beer is always something more complex that needs about 20 minutes of warming to open up and show off its full range of flavor.

Cicerone beer education founder Ray Daniels advocates putting beer in the microwave if that’s an option. He told the Tribune,

“Ten seconds takes that frosty edge off. I used to do it pretty regularly.”

Why is temperature such an issue? Daniels says it’s all about the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which release both aroma and flavor as they warm up from that ice-cold temperature all the beer ads tell us we want.

Daniels explained:

“So much of our sense of taste is in the sense of smell. In order to stimulate the olfactory nerves, you have to have volatile compounds enter the nasal passage and into the throat. If beer is too cold, it will release less aromatics.”

Daniels then suggested that you try two identical beers at two different temperatures: one straight from the fridge, and one that has spent 20 minutes warming on your room temperature counter. Drink them side by side, not one after the other, and you’ll immediately see the difference.

Trey Elder worked for three different Chicago coffee companies before going to work for Jerry’s Restaurant and Bar, which has considered such radical moves as serving barrel-aged stouts at room temp.

Elder told the Tribune that temperature rules hold true for coffee as well:

Any extreme temperature, cold or hot, will mask flavor. At room temperature you’ll taste everything. When coffee is really hot, you won’t be able to taste that much. Coffees that are really amazing, you taste what’s amazing as they cool.”

Beer Storage Temp Is Different Than Beer Serving Temp

CraftBeer.com’s handy temperature cheat sheet for retailers cautions that beers—craft or otherwise—should still be refrigerated to preserve their flavors and avoid all beer’s worst enemy: oxidation.

beer storage temperature

[via The Chicago Tribune]