Enjoying beer seems so easy. But as most of us know, achieving craft beer bliss requires diligence, understanding and yeah, a bit of beer snobbery.
When it comes to cleanliness, proper techniques and pricey beer, you have every right to be a little high maintenance. Because most bartenders don’t know they could be hindering your enjoyment, it’s up to us fanatics to ensure we’re getting everything we expect at the bar.
In truth, it’s not beer snobbery as much as it is beer enthusiasm — and honestly, everybody wins when simple beer mistakes are rectified.
Here are six of the best tips we’ve found to maximize your draft sessions …
1. Nix the frosted glasses for craft beer
Avoid any bar — be it in a high-end hotel or your buddy’s garage — that serves craft beer in frozen glassware, or at least be sure to ask for a room temperature glass.
A frosty mug is fine for any beer that sponsors a blimp, but this ritual doesn’t apply to our beloved craft brews.
To draw a comparison, think of the beer like food. Would a top chef serve meat that was frozen with no protective packaging? Not likely. Then why freeze your IPA?
The ice crystals from the sides of the glass will immediately mute your beer’s intended flavors, cause up to twice as much foam to form, and will eventually water down your beer to the point of undrinkability.
If you’re grilling in the yard throwing back some cheap cans, have at it. But don’t waste your investment in quality craft beers in a frozen mug.
2. Beware of unmonitored beer taps
Beer lines require a specific cleaning regimen to prevent microbes and minerals forming inside the lines. Tap lines need to be cleaned every two weeks; not “twice a month,” not “regularly.” Every. Two. Weeks.
If you go to a bar and taste a funky pint, you can bet the owner isn’t adhering to these standards. If you’re ballsy enough to ask how often they clean, and the immediate answer isn’t “every two weeks,” then pay your tab and find a better bar. (If THAT’s not an option, switch to bottles and do your homework for the next time you go out.)
I always wonder how many people pass judgment on beer they only tried on draught. If you have a sour, or unusually bitter beer with loads of head, there’s a good chance you haven’t enjoyed the beer as intended. Lines may be dirty, pressures may be off, etc. The only constant is that the bar will still charge you full price, no matter how “off” your pint tastes.
3. Don’t accept dirty glassware
Bottom Line: You should never drink from a glass that has residue from a previous customer or detergent. Nor should any bar, club or restaurant assume you will. Yet, dirty glassware is a common oversight by many establishments (and home beer enthusiasts, too!). In fact, this happens so much, most beer drinkers don’t even realize they’ve fallen victim to poor sanitary habits.
Now, we could go into extensive scientific testing, but The Hop Nation lab is currently dedicated to reverse engineering Genesee Cream Ale. In the meantime, there’s one key piece of evidence to watch when drinking outside your home: Bubbles.
When a beer’s bubbles cling to the sides of your glass instead of rising to the top, they are most likely stuck on residue. These dirty spots on a glass are called nucleation sites and are usually attributed to food, detergent, oils and other contaminants (read: saliva from the crusty guy talking to himself at the end of the bar).
If you see bubbles clinging to the sides of your glass, you have every right to ask for a new one. If you refuse, you’re only becoming a bigger part of the problem. Don’t let it slide. Be the solution.
4. How to test for a “beer clean” glass
A “beer clean” glass is free of any impurities: dirt, food, detergent, grease, lipstick, lip balm, backwash or anything else that would provide CO2 a proper landing spot.
A glass that isn’t “beer clean” reduces proper head, dulls the aroma, and compromises the look of your pint.
- Lacing Test: Fill the glass with beer. If the glass is clean, foam will adhere to the inside of the glass in parallel rings after each sip, forming a lacing pattern. If not properly cleaned, foam will adhere in a random pattern, or not at all.
- Sheeting Test: Dip the glass in water. If the glass is clean, water evenly coats the glass when lifted out of the water. If the glass still has an invisible film, water will break up into droplets on the inside surface.
- Salt Test: Salt sprinkled on the interior of a wet glass will adhere evenly to the clean surface, but will not adhere to the parts that still contain a greasy film. Poorly cleaned glasses show an uneven distribution of salt.
If you’re not seeing evidence of a “beer clean” glass, stop drinking from it. God only knows where that thing has been.
5. How to achieve “beer clean”
A beer served in a “beer clean” glass will look inviting with a persistent foam head and consistent lacing will appear as you drink it.
- Wash beer glassware separate from other glasses.
- Air dry glassware to avoid adding residue from dirty bar rags.
- Pre-rinse glasses (even if they were just washed) before serving to remove lingering residue.
A lot goes into that beer, from the brewery to the bar. To ensure a great beer experience, be sure it’s not spoiled by serving the beer in a dirty glass.
6. Don’t hesitate to ask
As a fan of craft beer, you have the right to expect certain care be taken with the beverage you’re being served. We’re not saying you should ask for a tour of the keg room every time you go out. But be mindful of the way the bar or brewpub does business: Are the glasses clean and properly sanitized? Does the management seem to care about proper craft beer protocols? Is every beer served in the same (and proper) type of glass?
Think these questions make you seem like a beer snob? Well, it’s your money, and your enjoyment on the line. A little care goes a long way toward making the best beer experience. We think it’s worth it.
Sources and related resources
Coming Clean About Dirty Beer Glassware
Frosted Glassware is Not Cool: Temperature Tips for Retailers
A Clean, Perfect Glass for Your Beer
5 Cardinal Sins of Craft Beer Service
Tips for “Beer Clean” Glassware at Home
How picky do you get with craft beer glassware? Ever frosted an IPA? Fess up in The Hop Nation Facebook Group.