Here’s a situation I find myself in all too often: after some long-overdue planning and schedule rearrangement, I finally make it to a new—or new to me—craft-beer bar that has garnered attention, if not acclaim. The beer list online looks impressive, and the offerings continue to stand out upon arrival. Everything is going smoothly until the first beers hit the table. The foam fizzles to reveal a glass rim marred by lipstick stains or water marks. A hint of chlorine accompanies the first sip.
Once again, I am reminded that craft beer does not a craft-beer bar make.
I don’t mean to undervalue the art of procurement and curation, nor the deep knowledge base, evolved palate, and knack for relationship-building that should support the work of list-building, but—as craft beer has gone mainstream and reached relative ubiquity—I am consistently underwhelmed by the state of beer service. The availability of high-quality beer continues to outpace the ability to properly present it. Too often the work of the best brewers is derailed by the actions of beer directors, taproom managers, publicans, and restauranteurs the world over.
Part and parcel to elevated service is upping your gear game. While nothing can replace the kind of persistent and inspired training that best guarantees a remarkable craft-beer experience, a number of exciting equipment initiatives can assist in delivering those kinds of experiences to your guests.
Quickly, fully, and properly cleaning glassware for continued use can be one of the most difficult elements of craft-beer service. At the same time, it is one of the major ways that better beer bars, brewpubs, and taprooms should be setting themselves apart from dozens of undistinguished competitors in any given market.
If your location must deal with hard water, you should always employ a water softener to keep the dish machines running smoothly and effectively; calcium buildup leads to compromised cleaning efforts and to the overall degradation of the machine itself. Softeners also prevent water marks that will affect not just the appearance of the glass, but also the aroma and taste of the beer served from that glass.
Once water has been appropriately softened, it is important to forego low-temperature dish machines. Low-temperature machines—those that both wash and rinse between 120–140°F (49–60°C)—use chlorine-based sanitizers to rinse glassware, post-cleaning, in preparation for usage. Unfortunately, trace elements of this solution can remain after the washing cycle, preventing proper foam stabilization and contributing chlorine aromas to the beer.
High-temperature washing machines, on the other hand, wash at 150–160°F (66–71°C) and rinse at 180°F (82°C), sanitizing through the sheer heat of the water. No chlorine-based sanitizer is required, and the glasses drink better on account of that. There are drawbacks—including excessive steam and piping-hot glasses—though the latter can be tempered by drip-tray glass-rinsers, which will cool off glasses while giving them a final rinse before pouring.
Meanwhile, I recently came upon the Jackson DishStar HT-E-SEER, which looks to provide the intense heat-cleaning of high temperature machines without the standard steam plume. This machine recovers steam created by the high- temperature wash/rinse and uses that energy to heat the water. Glasses come out sparkling, behind-the-bar steam is no longer an issue, and energy efficiency is improved. Win, win, win.
An aside: Foam is hugely important for beer presentation and enjoyment. Not only does a rocky head provide inviting aesthetics, but foam acts as a net to catch the beer’s aromatic compounds as they rise to the surface; as the foam subsides, aromatic intensity and nuance then pop from the glass, enriching the flavor experience. Clean glassware and proper pouring techniques create the perfect head, but timely delivery of draft beer makes sure that that head is properly enjoyed. Your bartenders should always ensure that your guests receive freshly poured brews, even if that means running drinks directly to a server’s table during busy moments.
When it comes to dispensing beer, and building that perfect 1½-inch head, I have been turning to flow-control faucets more and more over the years, and not just for overly active kegs. I find the flow-control faucets allow our staff to dial in (in short order) the correct amount of foam for each beer, no matter the varied shape of the glass; by controlling the restriction the faucet exerts, the proper level of foam can be created and the beer poured quickly. There is less time wasted waiting for a too-generous head to subside and less temptation for the bartender to perform the dreaded “marrying” ritual, a clumsy act that squanders beer and saves very little time delivering the now sticky glass to the guest. The major drawback to flow-control faucets has been the cost compared to a standard stainless-steel faucet. However, the Perlick 650SS has worked wonders for me, and at a fraction of the usual price.
Czech-style side-pull faucets are having a moment, and for good reason. The faucet itself acts like a dimmer switch to dispense varying degrees of foam or beer, and its small internal screen generates a wet, dense, cappuccino-like foam. Unlike the foam dispensed by other faucets, this foam is actually created by the faucet and has much more staying power: it can last anywhere from three to seven minutes, contributing nuanced textural enjoyment. I’d love to see more of these faucets employed in the service of lager beer, the style for which they were crafted. But please: Do not refer to them as slow-pour faucets nor insist that it take five minutes to get the beer just right. The beauty of the side-pull faucet is that it can dispense a beautiful lager—with proper, mousse-like head—in a matter of seconds.
Due to foam creation and the mechanics of the faucet itself, beer is poured in a totally different manner with the side-pull than with the standard or flow-control faucet. The tap itself is long and hangs lower, as it is intended to be submerged in the glass and beer. With the side-pull, the foam is poured first, with the beer being poured second, underneath the foam cap. Though dipping faucets in beer has long been anathema in the world of draft dispense, it is completely necessary for the side-pull—as is the imperative that these faucets be sanitized nightly.
Draft systems have evolved by leaps and bounds over the years. Outfitting a kit with 100 percent 304 stainless-steel components is no longer the dream, it is de rigueur. Eschewing vinyl, braided vinyl, and polyethylene in favor of wine-grade tubing for draft (trunk) lines has also become standard, since the latter cleans more fully, prevents CO2 loss, and practically eliminates O2 ingress into the beverage tube. This material is now also available to be used, rather than vinyl, as the “choker” that provides restriction prior to the shank and faucet at the point of dispense.
What proved difficult, until even more recently, was the jumper line—that all-too-important first length of tubing that stretches from the keg’s coupler to the trunk line. Since direct-draw boxes and walk-in coolers of any kind are short on space and kegs need to be moved and arranged just so, vinyl continues to be the material of choice because of its flexibility; polyethylene and wine-grade tubing—though far more hygienic and less prone to oxidation—are not nearly as pliant as vinyl.
Finally, some new options have made vinyl-free draft systems a reality. Micro Matic’s XtraFlexmaster shows malleability and cleans well, while the EJ Beverage Ultra Barrier Silver tubing is aggressively antimicrobial and even more flexible.
Innovations in draft-system and dish-machine technology, stretching from the keg to the consumer, continue to give us the opportunity to improve the guest experience. Let’s embrace these innovations and be inspired by the world’s best brewers, as we persist in pushing and refining the craft of beer service. Let’s commit to training, educating, exploring, and innovating ourselves each and every day.
Here are specific examples of the equipment mentioned in the article for pouring perfect pints:
OpyiPure OptiSoft Water Softener Model OS.10
Champion Industries UH230B
Jackson DishStar HT-E-SEER
Micro Matic Countertop-Mounted Glass Rinser
Perlick 650SS Forward Sealing Flow Control Faucet
LUKR CZ Beer Taps
Micro Matic Brewmaster II Tubing & Micro Matic XtraFlexmaster Tubing
EJ Beverage Ultra Barrier Silver Tubing