“Pass me a cold one!” *Reaches in fridge, throws bottle of cold craft beer across room.
From 1500 – 1800, before refrigerators, this was not the scene. It was popular to serve beer piping hot and was thought to be good for health. But hot beers were only good for certain styles such as porters and stouts. These beers were called “mulled ales”, which was another term for “heated.”
We’ve all heard of Wassail, which is popular around the holidays as a mulled wine. Full Sail, and other breweries, make a “Wassail” Ale, some known as Winter Warmers, every year that are inspired by this famous hot beverage. The Atlantic’s article on hot beer gives some insight into it’s history.
If the allure of hot beer is mysterious, it helps to consider that both the beer and the setting were very different when these drinks were popular. Today’s crisp, clear lagers and bitter, hoppy IPAs are not conducive to being enjoyed at high temperatures. Prior to the 20th century, English and American drinkers were more likely to be quaffing malty ales. These fermented quickly without refrigeration, and at their best they offered a full-bodied sweetness that could be enjoyed unchilled or even hot.
As historian Maureen Ogle writes in Ambitious Brew, a history of beer in America, “Wise drinkers edged toward a mug of ale, taking a delicate first sip in order to find out whether the tankard contained sweet beer or sour; a thick, yeasty pleasure or a rank broth with the taste and texture of muddy water.”
Indeed, heated ale was often perceived as being more healthful than cold beer. A pamphlet first published in 1641 with the title “Warm Beer” cautioned that although a cold drink is pleasant when one is thirsty, “pleasant things for the most part are very dangerous.” The unknown author of the preface claims that drinking cold beer caused him to suffer a headache, toothache, stomachache, cough, cold, and other illnesses, but drinking his beer “hot as blood” restored him to good health. He goes on to warn that cold beer could be downright lethal, recounting numerous tales of overheated imbibers falling deathly ill after attempting to refresh themselves with cold beverages.
We still see remnants of this thinking today. Just think of the cask beers that are served at room temperature at any of your favorite breweries. In Europe it is much more popular to drink room temperature beer. Spring is coming and while it may be a little late in the season, here’s some recipes from Gizmodo for “hot beer.” Just remember, the ancients used to drink it hot, ALL year long!
Firestone Double Jack Double IPA
This elegant double IPA was perhaps the most interesting warm beer cocktail—not necessarily in a delicious way, though. The complexity of the brew really made this a head scratcher, but nobody at Gizmodo could stomach more than a sip. This is the thinking man’s or woman’s hot beer.
Einstöck Icelandic White Ale
Hot damn, this was good. I’d read that steamy brews taste better when they’re made with a wheat beer or a white ale. This almost white-chocolatey ale from Iceland is delicious cold and downright heart-warming when hot. The lemon really brought out the citrus flavors, and it was the only hot beer that the Gizmodo staff universally enjoyed.
LOL. This was supposed to be the joke entry, but it was fucking fantastic. The watery soda beer ended up tasting a bit like hot apple cider with a curious malty finish. Seriously, amazing if you’re on a hot beer budget.