Serving a Perfect Pint

From the Keg to the Glass

Hold glass under tap, open tap, pour beer. Simple, right?

Pouring a pint of draught certainly looks straightforward, but in reality, liquid hitting the glass is just the end point of a long process with a great many variables that should demand your attention.

Those variables will make the difference between a beer that’s delivered to your customer in optimum condition vs. a glass full of foam or one that has unpleasant aromas and flavours.

Start with the Keg

Your commitment to delivering the perfect pint starts when the kegs arrive at your door. Give them a once over to make sure there’s no damage,  then move them into a refrigerated room as soon as possible so the beer stays fresh. Aim for a temperature of around 3.5⁰ C. Non-pasteurized beer can be kept refrigerated for six to eight weeks; if the beer is pasteurized, it can be kept refrigerated for three to four months. Storing beer warm will dramatically reduce its freshness, dulling its flavours and eventually causing it to taste stale.

Control Temperature & Pressure

When it’s time to hook up your keg to the draught system, a consistent temperature is just one of many things you need to get right. Dispensing gas–usually a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen–is used to keep the beer at the correct level of carbonation while pushing the beer from the keg to the tap.

Things get trickier when you consider that beers can require different carbonation levels. Think of the difference between a Belgian saison and an English bitter, for example.

Don Farion, owner/operator of Bomber Brewing and the Biercraft restaurants in Vancouver, says it’s worthwhile to set up each line with its own pressure regulator. “If you can control the pressure of each individual keg, you can dial them into the best possible pour,” he says.

Ideally, the brewery should specify the pressure it wants each of its beers to be served at.

Choose Tubing for Beer Lines

Even the type of tubing you choose for your beer lines is important. Barrier tubing features a glass-smooth interior that reduces the build-up of mineral deposits. If your lines run any considerable length, they should be encased in a trunk line containing a separate line of glycol coolant, so that the beer maintains the correct temperature from keg to glass.

All beer lines will accumulate bacteria and mineral deposits over time, so it’s imperative to clean your lines at least every two weeks.

Clean the Lines

When your system is running smoothly, you’ll want to keep it that way. For the most part, that means cleaning. Perhaps the biggest flaw in many draught systems around the world today is that they’re simply dirty. All beer lines will accumulate bacteria and mineral deposits over time, so it’s imperative to clean your lines at least every two weeks; every week is better if you’re dedicated to serving your beer in optimal condition. This involves pumping a 2-3% caustic solution through the lines at a fast rate. Taps should be disassembled and cleaned too.

“It’s all good and well to clean the lines, but if you don’t break down and clean the faucet each time, you are just running the beer up perfectly clean lines and then through a filthy sticky faucet. It defeats the purpose,” Farion explains. He also recommends at least a warm water rinse between changing kegs on a rotating tap. If the line has been pouring a wild ale or fruit beer, Farion advises giving it a full caustic clean.

Additionally, every three months, acid cleaner should be run through the lines to remove mineral deposits. Other pieces of equipment that come in close contact with the beer, such as couplers and the “Foam on Beer” devices that stop flow when a keg empties, should also be disassembled and cleaned.

It isn’t everybody’s favourite chore, but your customers will thank you with repeat business if they know your lines are regularly cleaned and your beer always tastes great. Advertising this fact will show them how much you care about the product you’re serving. Some bars now display the date when their lines were last cleaned.

Select the Right Glass

Ready to pour your pint? Wait! We need to talk glassware!

Far too many pubs and bars across the country serve up every beer in the standard shaker glass. There’s a reason it’s called a shaker glass: it’s for shaking cocktails. It’s not intended for serving beer, which benefits very little from its basic shape.

There’s a variety of glassware that can accentuate the appearance and aromas of a beer and make for a complete beer drinking experience. If you have to narrow it down, focus on a taller, thinner, tapered glass for lagers, which shows off the beer’s colour and clarity and allows for a fine stand of head; and a Belgian-style tulip glass for ales, which concentrates aromas toward the lip and makes for a denser head. Smaller tulips or snifters are also a good idea for serving higher-alcohol brews.

If you really want to impress your customers, you’ll take a leaf out of the books of many Belgian pub owners and keep branded glassware for every different beer you serve. You’re going to have to keep those glasses spotless though. Not just clean; BEER clean.

Beer-Clean your Glassware

“Why would you go to all the trouble of cleaning your lines and faucet, only to pour delicious beer into a dirty glass?” Farion wonders. “Any grease, fat, dust or ice on the walls of your glass begin to immediately destroy the beer. Quickly dissipating foam, unpleasant aromas and flat beer do not the perfect pint make.”

Ever seen patches of bubbles form on the wall of your glass? That’s dirt. Empty the glass and get it beer clean.

It’s ideal if you can dedicate a dishwasher to glassware. If not, scrub with a brush in sudless detergent, rinse with cool water, then rinse in sanitizer. To test if your glass is beer clean, rinse it out again with water: If the water sheets off the glass and leaves no droplets behind, you’re all set. Air dry in a stainless steel basket or corrugated surface.

Before you ask, frosted glasses are a big no-no. They increase foaming and chill the beer so it loses aroma and flavour. Beer that’s too cold also retains more carbon dioxide, which can leave the customer feeling bloated.

Phew! After all of this, you’re going to need a beer.

Pour a Perfect Pint

Take your beer-clean glass and give it one final rinse with cold water. Hold it at 45 degrees under the tap, but don’t let it touch the tap. Open the tap all the way and move the glass slowly upright when it’s about half full. This will give you a good size of head that should be right for the beer.

Lay down a coaster and present the beer with the logo facing the customer, if it’s a branded glass.

Smile! You’ve just served the perfect pint.