Serving Temperature, Homebrew Kegging and Gout

Ask the Beer Geek by | May 2007 | Issue #5

A heated cold debate, to bottle or to keg, and keep your purine gout of my beer!

Illustration by Demian Johnston

I was drinking beer at a party with a friend the other night, and we got into an argument. The beer was getting a little less than cold, and I didn’t mind. He said that beer was supposed to be cold. I figured, as man’s oldest alcoholic drink, it must not have been served cold (in general) until the last few centuries or so. Is there a “proper” temperature at which to enjoy all beer? Do different varieties have different ideal temperatures? —Alex in Arizona

First, it’s always heartwarming to hear that people are so passionate about beer that they’d get into a heated argument over it—I hope no one was hurt. To answer your question, each style of beer does have its own ideal serving temperature and oftentimes an individual brand within the style will, too. And yes, back in the day, beer was indeed served warmer, but it was still stored in cool cellars and caves.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Colder temperatures will numb the taste buds and literally mask the beer’s true flavors, aromas and nuances. Use color (malts) and alcohol content to determine the best drinking temperatures. Try around 40-50 ̊F for paler or lower-alcohol beers, and 50-60 ̊F for darker or higher-alcohol beers. Play around within the ranges and you’ll eventually get the hang of it, but note that a lot of this also comes down to personal preference.

I just purchased a homebrewing kit and I am wondering whether it is better to bottle or keg my beer? I have been hearing the pros and cons from both sides and everyone seems to have a different opinion. Will kegging my beer cause the beer to lose its flavor? —Mark in Connecticut

Mark, this really depends on your own personal preference, storage room, budget, time, etc. Personally, I hate bottles when it comes to homebrewing. I hate cleaning them, storing them, priming them, capping and corking them, and watching the bottles sit there. Though the up-front costs and learning curve can be a challenge, kegs rule. My personal preference aside, you mention that you just purchased a homebrewing kit. If this is your first time, I recommend that you learn how to bottle first and then switch over to kegging when you get more comfortable with the many aspects of homebrewing. And no, kegging beer will not impact the overall flavor of your beer—that’s a myth spread by beer-tards.

Any ideas on what type of beer would be lower in purines? I drink Big Rock Grasshöpper and Traditional most of the time. I think their “special brewer’s yeast” and my love of that beer is giving me gout. Kirin has come out with a 99 percent low-purine beer, but I doubt it’s available in Canada. Do you think Guinness or other Euro Dark beers would be lower in purine, or should I stick to mass-produced beers like Canadian? —Terry in Canada

For those readers who haven’t a clue as to what “purines” are, and without getting too technical: They’re a naturally occurring compound in many foods that break down into uric acid, which is a waste product. An excess of uric acid in the blood can cause gout. Not only does beer contain purine, but drinking alcohol—not just beer—causes hyperuricemia, which is an increase in the production of uric acid.

Anyway, back to you, Terry. I did a lot of searching, but it’s been nearly impossible to track down beers that claim to have acceptably low purine levels. And, unfortunately, everything that I’ve read about gout says the same thing: Avoid beer (along with many other purine-rich foods like seafood, liver and kidneys), injury, and stress. You did mention Kirin’s Tanrei Alpha, which appears to be your only healthy option; but it’s only available in Japan at the moment. Try contacting them for domestic availability. My guess is that as demand for low-purine beers increases, we’ll see brewers jump into the niche—as they have with organic and gluten-free beers.