Joe Sixpack: Beer on the rocks? Has hell frozen over?

Posted: July 08, 2011

A FEW MONTHS ago, the New York tabloids were in an uproar when Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed during a tour of Brooklyn Brewery that he drinks his beer over ice. "I've always done it," he declared.

Beer on the rocks? Heresy!

Gossip columnists and beer bloggers couldn't stifle their guffaws over one of the richest men in America - a Boston-born dilettante with a weekend home in Bermuda - falling flat on his face while trying to relate to the common man. It ranked right up their with Donald Trump using a fork to eat a slice of pizza. What a dweeb!

"Show some damn respect, Bloomberg," Gawker wrote.

"He's ruining his beer," blogged Brew York, New York.

On Twitter, some wondered if putting ice in beer was grounds for impeachment.

I asked my Facebook friends about it, and most agreed with the guy who said, "Curse the thought."

So, what's so wrong about pouring beer over ice?

1. It's just wrong.

To which I reply, "So what?"

How many times have you lifted a glass to those rule-breaking, rebellious sorts?

If beer-drinkers followed the rules, there'd be no such thing as the double IPA, the smoked porter, barrel-aged stout, fruit beer, American wheat beer or about 100 other styles of beer.

Instead, we'd all still be drinking Budweiser, which - I kid you not - ran a national advertising campaign in 1965 that said its brewmaster might cry if he saw anyone pour his beer over ice. As if a couple of cubes would somehow ruin that fizzy industrial rice lager.

2. It makes the beer too cold.

It's true, the spicy yeast of a Belgian ale or the hoppy bite of an India pale ale tends to disappear below 45 degrees.

But most American beer is meant to be served at less than 40 degrees. Heck, some bars chill those Bud aluminum bottles to 22 degrees!

In hotter climes, notably Thailand and Vietnam, beer is almost always served over ice. In Mexico, it's not uncommon to enjoy a Michelada, which is a pale lager like Pacifico mixed with tomato juice, lime and spices over a salt-rimmed glass full of ice.

3. It changes the taste of beer.

The ice can't help but melt, which waters down the flavor of your favorite.

But beer gets watered down all the time - and I'm not just talking about light beer. In most brews, the initial beer wort is diluted with additional water to adjust the density and flavor of the finished product.

Adding a little more water doesn't necessarily ruin the beer - it just changes it. Could it actually improve the flavor? You won't know till you try.

Which, in the spirit of journalistic curiosity, I did during a recent hot spell.

Appropriately enough, the test beer was Heresy from Weyerbacher of Easton. This dark, rich ale is technically an imperial stout - a style that was designed to survive the cold, cold of a Russian winter.

On this day, though, it was muggy and 85 degrees. I poured it into a glass over two cubes. The beer foamed as expected and, in 30 seconds, it cooled a couple of degrees.

Was it ruined? Absolutely not. Instead, a beer that would otherwise stick to your bones had lightened considerably. The full, roasty flavor was still there, but now it was as easy to gulp as a light lager. A contemplative, cold-weather beer had been transformed into an easy-drinking warm-weather refresher.

Which leaves only one question: Should I join Mayor Bloomberg and drink my beer on the rocks?

Are you kidding? Do I look like some kind of dweeb?

"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. E-mail:

joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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