Picture the scene: It’s a scorching summer’s day, you’re on vacation, and your only priorities are quenching one hell of a thirst, and cooling down in the process. You don’t want to think about fucking IBU levels, nor do you want to wait in line for the latest limited-edition seasonal release or cult collaboration. You just want to crush a couple of cold ones, and get a little buzzed while doing it.
This moment calls for a stupidly refreshing beer. It’s not thought-provoking or indicative of your independent sensibilities. It’s just easy and fun and perfect.
Ice-cold macro draft beer — ALWAYS draft, though more on this later — is like a wonderful, meaningless summer romance. It’s unlikely to blossom into anything serious, but boy does it make you feel great at the time. It’s a drinkable Danny Zuko.
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As with wine, there are ideal serving temperatures. They range from around 40 degrees for pilsners, to low- to mid-50 degrees for Belgian-style dubbels. Drinking beer at ice-cold temperatures is generally not advisable, as it masks the beverage’s malty, toasty, nuanced flavors.
In the case of cheap macro beer, however, that’s sort of the point. Extreme chilling is the best way to appreciate the fact that macro brews taste like beer-flavored water. In the right circumstance, that makes them extremely enjoyable.
Texture, too, is vital. The mouthfeel of fresh draft beer is infinitely superior to that in glass bottles and cans. With a healthy proportion of foamy head to ice-cold liquid, draft brew has a velvety texture, gliding down silkily like Egyptian cotton on varnished wood flooring. It simply guarantees refreshment.
Glass bottles, on the other hand, allow light contamination and their caps leak in oxygen. Light and oxygen are the enemies of fresh beer. And though cans don’t suffer from this issue, studies have shown that they are beer drinkers’ least-favorite container for consumption.
Whether canned or bottled, when either is decanted into a beer glass, even if the pour provides a healthy head, the drink still feels texturally disjointed, and foam lingers awkwardly til the end.
Not only does ice-cold draft macro combat summer heat, it also proves a worthy match to hot, spicy foods, which are typically tricky to pair with alcoholic drinks.
Spicy food clashes with acidic and bitter flavors, two of the leading profiles in many wines and craft beers. When Food and Wine investigated the topic, it also found that bitter, boozy beers compounded the effect of spice (basically the opposite of what you’re looking for). The near-neutral flavor of macro beer, however, with its ever-so-subtle sweetness, provides a perfect pairing to a curry, say, while its ice-cold serving temperature helps you feel refreshed when eating it.
Now that we’ve mentioned the craft-beer-shaped elephant in the room, we should acknowledge that this is, by no means, a comparison of the virtues of craft versus macro. Everything has its place.
Google data for the search term “craft beer” in the U.S. from 2011 onward provides intriguing results. The first, most noticeable trend is an annual peak in May searches — something possibly explained by the fact that American Craft Beer Week takes place during this month.
Interestingly, though, searches for “craft beer” nosedive in summer months, with some years experiencing up to a 44 percent drop in searches in June to August, compared to May peaks. Using absolutely no scientific basis, and applying shameless confirmation bias, we choose to believe this is because during high summer months, while enjoying long weekends and seaside holidays, the nation would rather quench its thirst with refreshing ice-cold draft macro brews than discover the latest craft beer trend.
In a 2016 interview, dearly departed Anthony Bourdain put it thusly:
“I would say that the angriest critiques I get from people about shows are when I’m drinking whatever convenient cold beer is available in a particular place, and not drinking the best beer out there. You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they’re making some fucking Mumford and Sons IPA. People get all bent about it. But look, I like cold beer. And I like to have a good time.”