By Fred Crudder, Foodable Industry Expert
One thing that never stops fascinating me about beer and beer drinkers, is that for a product so beloved, its fans are woefully uneducated on just about everything surrounding it. A lot of these misconceptions regard beer service, which on the surface seems so simple, and it is. At least it should be. So why do people make so many mistakes?
Right Or Wrong, Just Pour
Some people fail at Beer Service 101 immediately after they open a beer. They drink it right from the can or bottle. It’s OK, we’ve all done it, and if the need arises, we’ll do it again. But this is not the ideal way to enjoy a beer. Here’s why: decanting a beer allows the carbonation to be released from inside the liquid. This does more than just produce an attractive head on the beer. It allows the flavors in the beer to come alive. It’s not so much that you are letting it “breathe,” as it’s that you are agitating the beer on a molecular level, arousing the delicate nuances and bold flavors to the forefront. Drinking a beer straight from the container is like looking at a piece of fine art in the dark.
Also, have you ever noticed that the end of a can or bottle of beer tastes lifeless compared to when it was first opened? There’s a reason for that. By constantly sloshing the beer back and forth every time you take swig, you are beating the carbonation out of it, leaving the dregs flat and nasty. People call it “backwash,” but it is not, in fact, old spit that has washed out of your mouth into your beer. It just tastes like old spit, but it’s really just a poor sip of beer that has had the daylights beaten out of it.
You’re Not A Teenager Anymore
Pouring a beer with as little head as possible was something I think many of us were taught at a relatively young age. Although we grew out of many of our adolescent behaviors by the time we reached adulthood, somehow this one persists. Sure, if you are at a keg party four nights a week, getting a completely full beer has its merits I suppose. But by preventing the carbonation from being released when you pour beer, you’re now just putting the carbonation into your belly. And then it wants to come out. Loud, thunderous burps (or worse) can easily be avoided by properly pouring your beer. Plus, the frothy head makes a beer just so much sexier to look at in the first place. Try this: place a beer with no head next to a beer with a nice head. Which one looks more appetizing?
If you operate a restaurant, decanting beer has many advantages. One is that you will have less bloated-feeling customers, who might just order another beer, or possibly dessert. A second is that properly pouring the beer gives your server a chance to further interact with the guest, and if he or she can pour a beautiful beer, that guest will be impressed.
Right Down The Middle
To pour beer beautifully takes a small amount of practice. It also requires one critical element: glassware that is larger than the volume of beer being decanted. Where is this sexy, frothy head supposed to go if you only give it a sliver of room to exist? A sixteen ounce glass is perfect for a twelve ounce beer. Start by pouring a small amount (maybe two ounces) right down the middle of the glass, directly into the bottom. Without stopping, watch as the foam rises and expands. Now slow down your pour as the foam starts to ebb. Continue filling the glass at whatever rate the beer and the glassware dictate, until you have reached the lip of the glass. Voila! Ain’t rocket science kids. Just pouring beers and making them look pretty.
Remember that if you see bubbles stuck to the sides of the glass after the beer has been fully poured, you have a dirty glass. The bubbles are sticking to something besides well-cleaned glass. Whatever it is, it’s gross. If the head dissipates rapidly, literally fizzing away as fast as it is produced, you probably have an oily glass. That’s bad news, partner. New glass, please.
Don’t Dodge the Draft
Draft beer has always been very popular. Why don’t people know how to pour it?
Most people tend to hold the glass at a steep angle, which is good. It all goes downhill from there. They place the glass under the tap, resting the lip of the faucet inside the glass. Did they wipe off that faucet? How long has it been sitting there all crusty, with the remnants of the last beer poured stuck all over it? Kind of nasty, right? Then they open the faucet, and foam comes out immediately, followed by beer. As the beer rises up to the faucet, it submerges the faucet, rinsing all of the gross residue into a fresh beer, leaving behind a fresh film to get crusty and gross for the next pour. Fail.
The proper way to do this is to hold the glass at that same steep angle. Open the faucet to release the small amount of foam that has built up due to the pressure in the draft system. After a millisecond, when clear beer flows, put the glass under the flow. Do not touch the faucet to the glass. Then, as the beer fills up, straighten the glass to almost completely upright, controlling the production of a nice foamy head on the beer. If you need to top it off, no problem. Let it rest for a second (foam is 25% liquid beer), and then hit it with a fresh splash of beer, free of gunk and funk. If you can’t train a bartender to do that, you’ve got problems. Better yet, you’re about to have a job opening if you ask me.
Let me air a few last grievances about beer service, please. One: people complain about the way beer tastes out of a can. You know why? Because you are tasting the metal container, and any dust or grime or production ooze that came in contact with that can from the minute it got packaged until it is in your hand. The can is lined with a material that protects the flavor of the beer from the aluminum. The outside is not. Pour the beer into a glass (or plastic cup if you are camping/tailgating/a redneck), and problem solved.
Think bottles are better? Think again. Beer is packaged very rapidly. Oxygen is an enemy to beer freshness. To drive out the oxygen, the bottle is allowed to overflow with foam (25% liquid beer!) immediately before it is capped. A small amount of old, stale beer is stuck between that bottle cap and mouth of your bottle. Go ahead, take a sip. Take a big, gross sip of some funky business, pal. Have at it.
Lastly, I would like to address the issue of putting fruit slices into beer. If that’s what people like, more power to them. But let me ask the fruit-in-my-beer drinkers out there a question: do you think anyone washed that fruit? Or is it more likely that it was rinsed off in the processing plant, boxed up, shipped out, stored, delivered, stored some more, and then sliced up for your enjoyment? I am not trying to be a whistleblower on the status of bar fruit, but germaphobe or not, have some respect for your beer. That beer deserves better. You deserve better.
Are We Done?
I don’t know, are we? Will you start being more conscientious about how beer is served either to you, for you, or around you? If you run an establishment where people spend money on beer, will you engage in proper beer service? Will you demand more from your staff when it comes to how beer is handled and presented?
If you are a beer drinker, will you send back dirty glasses? Draft beers poured with the faucet submerged in your pint? Will you ask for a glass for your bottled and canned beers? You must, to all of the above. Because if the customers don’t demand better, why would the bars and restaurants ever change?
How about if consumers not only demand better, but reward the establishments that do beer right with their patronage? Stop spending your money where your needs as a beer lover are clearly not a priority. More importantly, be loyal to the places that care about how they serve their beer. Chances are they are just as considerate about every other element of their business, and you, my friend, just found yourself a good spot for a beer. I’ll drink to that.