Frosty makes it better

In search of the coldest beer in downtown Chico

Photo By Stephanie Bird

Michael Jackson loves to drink beer. No, not that Michael Jackson—this M.J. wrote the World Guide to Beer and was the Beerhunter of the BBC/PBS Beerhunter series. If you asked the Beerhunter, or most any other beer “expert” for that matter, if he’d like to share a frosty cold one with you, you’d likely end up drinking alone. Contrary to how most Americans drink their brewskies, the connoisseurs suggest that there are a variety of ideal temperatures to serve beer at, and none of them is icy cold. In Mr. Jackson’s World Guide to Beer, he actually recommends individual ideal temperatures for every single one of the 450 or so different beers in the book!

I’m guessing, though, that the Beerhunter hasn’t tracked his prey on a late July afternoon in Butte County—even if the great brews of our beloved Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. are calling to him.

Since this is Chico, home of the hottest summers this side of Hades, and since a really cold beer can quench your thirst and hit the spots plain water can’t reach, and since the News & Review is within walking distance of at least a dozen bars and restaurants that serve cold, draught beer, we thought it would be helpful to investigate which downtown establishment pours the coldest of the cold.

My trusty sidekick (and very vocal beer aficionado) Dan Greenfield and I, armed with a newly calibrated restaurant thermometer, exchanged the unseasonably muggy evening air for the cool chill of a well-air-conditioned Woodstock’s Pizza (the atmosphere was especially chilly, since less than an hour earlier the Sacramento Kings’ season had just fallen one three-pointer short of extending into overtime). Dan grabbed a slice, and I grabbed a pint of Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest in chilled glass ($2.25/pint). I immediately plopped the metal spike of the thermometer in the cold brew and was joined by an off-duty Woodstock’s employee in watching the gauge slowly come to rest at 33ºF.

That seemed pretty good. Both Dan and I agreed that it tasted really good.

According to beverage equipment suppliers, the ideal temperature to keep draught beer at is between 34º and 38ºF. Anything below 32ºF is in danger of becoming slushy as water begins to form ice crystals. So, 33ºF would seem as cold as you can get without being in danger of freezing some part of your tasty beverage.

We crossed Second Street to descend into the U-Bar below the Brick Works to test another, but had we already found a winner?

In my experience, the U-Bar is consistently the best bargain for your buck for drinking in Chico, and I was a little surprised that it was fairly empty during this last week of school. Getting up to the bar was super-quick though, and the price—$1 for a pint of Summerfest—was nice.

Drop the spike: 35ºF. Only two degrees’ difference—negligible. And, the glass wasn’t chilled. Maybe a cold glass can give you a two-degree difference?

Our haphazard tour continued: Normal St. Bar (Summerfest, $1.50/pint), Riff Raff (Summerfest, $2.75/pint) and Duffy’s Tavern (Sierra Nevada Wheat, $3.00/pint)—all chilled glasses, all 33ºF. They all tasted good too. Well, actually more cool-going-down than actually particularly flavorful. Hmmmm?

I asked Brandon Tucker, owner of the Brew Guild (1722 Mangrove, Suite 36), what he recommends for serving summertime beers, and he suggested that for optimum taste Pilsners (like Summerfest) and wheat beers should be taken out of the refrigerator and left out until they lose their chill, advising that, “the cooler something is, the less you can taste it.”

At, they break it down for you. The ideal serving temperatures for five general categories of beer are offered: fruit beers (40-50ºF), wheat beers/pale lagers (45-50ºF), pale ales and amber/dark lagers (50-55ºF), strong ales, such as barley wines and Belgian ales (50-55ºF) and dark ales, like porters and stouts (55-60ºF).

Maybe it was the consistent lack of any real difference in beer temperatures during our experimenting, or maybe it was the Kings’ depressing free-throw shooting in game seven of the Western Conference Semifinals, but I was no longer excited about what turned out to be a pretty pointless competition.

What’d we learn? It’s likely most every bar in Chico will serve you a beer as cold as the beer itself can handle. Just ask for a chilled mug when available so you can insulate that coldness as long as possible. Or, if you’re lookin’ for the flava', set your beer on the counter, drop a thermometer in and enjoy a glass of ice water while you wait.