This question has come up plenty of times at beer tastings, in on-line beer forums, at beer bars and even at the breweries that make a variety of real beers. The answer always differs a little (or a lot).
Of course, we’re not talking about your common mass-produced “Cold-Filtered”/“Coldest-Tasting”/”Wettest-Flavored”/”Goes Down Smooth” “Beer”! We’re talking about “Real” Lagers and Ales brewed by real brewers, with real beer ingredients, with real brewing techniques, which bring out the true aromas and flavors of real beer…no matter the style.
Everyone, including an unborn baby is aware that wine “must breathe”. We are constantly reminded that this is a true fact…and it is, in fact, a fact. Wine needs to breathe, or be decanted before being sniffed, swished and spit out. But what about beer, you might ask? The best way to answer this question is; First, Do not spit out beer!
Second, almost every beer “aficionado” (a person who loves great beer and can’t stop raving about it) believes that many beers, especially the “Extreme” Beer varieties should breathe awhile before consuming. Others, (including me) believe all craft beer, mellow lagers, to Lambics, to Imperial Stouts and Belgian Quadrupels should be allowed a little time to breathe in the glass.
Take this test at home. See for yourself. Let’s start all of your test beers at 50 degrees F. Right after pouring your beer and you’ve had a chance to marvel at its appearance and smell its lovely aromas, take a nice big gulp. Depending on the beer style, you’ll probably notice an amount of bubbly or fizzy effervescence. This is the release of carbon dioxide and oxygen. In essence, your first mouthful has a degree of carbonation in the mix. It spritzes in your mouth and down your throat…sure to help create a satisfying belch later on!
Now let the beer sit for 5-6 minutes. Go get the mail or start an easy-to-solve puzzle while you wait. Don’t just sit there staring at the beer. It will seem an eternity. Ok, now it’s time to take another solid gulp. Notice the difference? Shouldn’t matter whether your sampling a mild Czech Pilsener or a whomping big Double IPA. The resting beer will become noticeably more full flavored. The maltiness is inching forward. The hoppy bitterness hasn’t changed much, but the beer is becoming more balanced. Some of this improvement will be due to the natural warming of the beer as it awaits your judgment (you can try this with cheese as well.) Wait another 5 minutes. Does the malt profile seem a bit sweeter, with a more rounded mouthfeel? Of course it does! And that’s the point. Let it Breathe!
Now you might ask, “So, when does the beer begin to lose flavor while exposed to all this research?”
I’ve never waited that long to find out, although I did gulp a half beer that was left out overnight next to the cold pizza. Sadly, it was way beyond its prime. So was the beer for that matter.