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Coldest Beer

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We are a nation caught up in the competitive spirit and are always pushing things to the limit. Where the subdued sport of baseball once served as the national pastime, extreme sports are all the rage today. And as if the sweet science of boxing was not intense enough, now we have everything from mixed martial arts to hard-core cage fights. The one thing that has remained constant is our fascination with keeping score and tracking stats, a propensity that has invaded too many aspects of everyday life. We rate wines on the hundred-point scale, we rank cities from the best to the worst and, of course, we report on where you'll find the coldest beer.

I love a nice cold brew as much as the next person, but when the temp drops below freezing, any real sense of flavor is lost. You might as well be drinking fizzy water. Not that it matters much if you're guzzling some big-name, industrial beer. As Monty Python once pointed out, those American brews are like making love in a canoe: They're both close to &*$@ing water.

That said, one of the best beer moments in recent memory was a Stella Artois that had been left in the freezer just a little too long. It poured about the consistency of a slushy, and drinking it on a sun-drenched patio with the mercury pushing past 100 degrees was sheer and sublime joy. Still, the risk of brain freeze makes that an activity not to be pursued on a regular basis, and Stella is definitely on the lighter side of the flavor spectrum. For the most part, I prefer a brew like Czechvar or Pilsner Urquell served well-chilled, but no colder than say 45 to 48 degrees. Most ales and stouts do best above 50 degrees, and the darker ales like Belgians really open up around 60 degrees. Of course, it's a matter of taste, and that's what you get when you warm things up a bit—more flavor to taste.

On a completely different note, if you're looking for the perfect bottle to go with your July 4th holiday, may I recommend a pair of appropriately named ales.

Anchor Brewing Co. Liberty Ales

Anchor is the West Coast's original micro brew with a history going back to 1896. Owner Fritz Maytag began bottling his seminal beers back in 1969. In the past, their Liberty Ale was always a favorite of mine, but I had forgotten how good it was. Delicate hop aromas, persistent creamy head, nicely carbonated. Smooth malt flavors dominate with a soft touch of citrus and grain. The hop flavors are light but persistent. A classic ale.

Rogue American Amber Ale

This one has light citrus, coffee and grain aromas with quite a bit more hop bite on the palate than the Liberty. The flavors are clean and crisp with roasted malt, orange zest, resin-laced hops and a touch of herb. The World Beer Championship judges called this the "perfect embodiment of an American ale," giving it top honors four years in a row. If that's not enough to make you buy a six pack, the label, done in red, white and blue, makes a nice match for the holiday.