Are Chilled Glasses Taboo?

Ask the Beer Geek by | Jun 2009 | Issue #29

Illustration by Jon Campolo

What are your thoughts on chilled glasses for certain types of beer? Growing up, my dad always had mugs in the freezer ready to be filled with a refreshing beer, but the more I learn about and appreciate craft beer, I wonder if chilled glasses might dull flavors, limit head retention and dampen aromas. Are chilled glasses taboo? —Best, Graham

Ah. The old chilled-glass conundrum. As a beer geek, I’m supposed to cross the line from geek to snob and tell you to stick your nose up when offered a chilled glass or send your beer back if it’s served to you in a chilled glass, and demand one served in a room-temp glass. And, of course, you’ll have to learn to chuckle aloud whenever you see others partake of their beloved beer from a chilled glass, too.

Why? Some suggest that:

1) As the beer hits the frosted glass, condensation will occur and dilute your beer, while at the same time, alter the serving temperature. And, depending on how cold the glass is, it’ll actually freeze the first-contact beer, which often results in your first sip being a bit icy. Oh, and a frozen glass doesn’t do much for eye candy other than indicate that your beer is in a frozen glass.

2) Cold liquids numb the palate. Additionally, colder temperatures will indeed mask (dampen) the aroma and flavor of beer, especially all of those wonderful nuances, which, if taken away from the experience, will drastically impact your impression of the beer.

3) Refrigerated areas are not always the most sanitary. The chilled, stale air flowing around what will soon be your beer glass could very well be tainted with germs, mildew and mold. When was the last time it was cleaned? What else is stored in there? Who knows?

So yes, in beer-geek circles, chilled glasses are taboo. And item number two (above) will most likely be the result of a chilled glass, which is something to consider.

And the origins of this stigma only reinforce the taboo. Chilled glasses and frozen mugs have been associated with fizzy, yellow, bland, adjunct-ridden beers for decades now. Even Coors Light ran a campaign called “Taste the Cold.” Taste the what? Is “cold” even a flavor? Obviously not—that would be ridiculous—but serving cheap beers ice cold means that you have less of a chance to taste how boring they really are. Ever have an adjunct (corn or rice) lager warm up on you? “Taste the warm, cheap corn.” No thanks.

All of that said, to hell with taboo! Sometimes, a nice chilled glass of beer hits the spot. Especially when it’s hot as hell out and it’s that glorious first beer of the day. Or, maybe you just like your beer ice cold all the time and are willing to sacrifice the nuances for your own personal enjoyment.

I suggest you take your favorite go-to beer and do a side-by-side comparison—one in a chilled glass and one at room temp. Enjoy whichever you like better, or enjoy them both, depending on your mood. Cheers!