This question is a bit like asking what temperature one should serve their food. You wouldn’t necessarily serve your ice cream hot, or your soup frozen, though there are some exceptions. There are also some norms! Beer falls into two broad categories, ales and lagers. These are determined strictly by what yeast is making your beer.

When brewing:

  • Ale strains ferment at warmer temperatures ranging from 60-75°F.
  • For lager strains, it’s cooler, around 45-55°F.

Most styles you make will fall in these ranges. The exceptions are where it can get complicated. Just how complicated?

Yeast

Some styles use the yeast to different effect than what we consider the norm. An example is steam beer, developed in San Francisco in the late 1800′s by fermenting beer with lager yeast at ale temperatures. The Bay City has wonderfully mild weather that is fairly consistent over the year. However, it’s just a bit too warm to do a proper lager fermentation and maturation without refrigeration. Why they didn’t go with an ale yeast is a bit of a mystery. Nonetheless, they made due with what they had and it was pretty good. A modern example of this is Anchor Steam.

Be warned though not all lager strains will make a good tasting beer at those temperatures. You may get some side effects: a weird fruity ester production, higher diacetyl, not to mention fusel alcohols and other not-so-good sulfury compound funk. If you want to try this California Common style, stick to a known strain that is used for making it, such as Wyeast 2112 California lager or the White Labs version.

Another style of beer that is fermented out of a normal temperature for an ale is Saison. Where most ales might aim for upper temps in the upper 60′s, Saisons are fermented more in the range of 85 – 95°F! To most ale brewers that is beyond just being “outside the box”, it’s insane! We highly recommend using a yeast strain known for producing good beer at this temperature, or risk making the fruitiest and unpalatable beer you’ve ever done. Good strains are: Wyeast 3711 French Saison, 3724 Belgian Saison, or White Labs versions.

Given that the yeast truly makes the beer and you are just setting the stage to make the yeast happy, you really need to know what temperature and flavor profile the yeast you intend to use produces. For example:

If you made a batch of blonde ale, pitched Wyeast 1098 on it, split it into two fermenters and fermented one of them at 64°F and the other at 74°F you would end up with 2 very different tasting beers. The descriptions of strains are known along with their temperature ranges. If you’re not sure what range to pick, shoot for the middle of the range. If you don’t have access to temperature control for the fermentation and know the temperature of the area you will be fermenting in then pick a yeast that works well to give you the flavor profile you’re looking for under those conditions.

So, what temperature should I ferment my beer? To answer this, you just need to know what kind of beer you’re wanting to make!