As a consumer of Michigan craft beer, who do you blame when a bartender gives you a draft beer that tastes bad? 99% of the time you probably blame the brewery. Did you know that 99% of the time, the fault lies with the bar’s draft beer program? That’s right. 99% of the time a craft draft beer tastes “bad” at your favorite watering hole, is because the retailer isn’t following a simple checklist of 5 things that guarantee a quality craft beer program.
Let’s talk about these 5 things one at a time…
1. CLEAN DRAFT LINES
Beer is a food product and is susceptible to contamination from a whole host of microorganisms. Thankfully, hops and alcohol prevent any pathogens from growing in beer, so contaminated beer won’t make anyone sick. Nonetheless, if the folks who pour your beer want it to taste the best it can, everything that comes in contact with the beer needs to be cleaned regularly. The Brewers Association recommends draft systems to be cleaned and serviced – at a minimum every two weeks.
Simply put, stuff grows in beer lines. Bacteria, yeast, mold, and “beer stone” will build up and quickly degrade the quality & favor of draft beer.
Beer is like liquid bread – the fresher the better! Focusing on freshness is key to serving great draft beer. Retailers represent the last line in defense in dispensing fresh beer by keeping their inventory sized appropriately, rotating their stock, and buying brewery fresh beer from their wholesaler or brewery partners. Time & temperature are the two major enemies of beer flavor. Oxidation begins the day the beer is packaged, so flavor suffers as time marches on, and higher temperature rapidly accelerates oxidation, damaging beer flavor faster still.
3. PROPER GLASSWARE
Glassware is an important & often overlooked component of the draught beer ritual. Clean, cool (but never frozen) glassware will increase the presentation value of the beer you’re served and enhance your enjoyment of your favorite beer. Glassware should vary in style to match the style of beer. Each type of glass enhances the flavors and aromas of the beer within.
4. PROPER POUR
A properly poured beer should be topped with a 1-inch collar of foam and the faucet should never touch the glass or the beer while pouring. With proper technique you can achieve this attractive presentation both quickly and with little or no waste. A beer often tastes different when it’s topped with head of foam. The creamy, fluffy feel of foam can dramatically alter the perception of any given beer by “softening” the overall palate. It’s also important to remember that our senses of taste and smell are intimately interwoven. In fact, many times a specific characteristic that a drinker may describe as ‘taste’ is actually detected in their nasal passage. Foam brings more odor compounds to the surface of your beer, kind of like un-stuffing your nose and opening up the full range of flavors.
5. EDUCATED STAFF
“It’s not just good beer and food that makes a brewpub a successful one; it’s the people who work there, too. They are an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating an experience for a customer. The beer may sell itself, but somebody’s got to serve it—and serve it well.” Ginger Tin, Ramping Up Server Training, The New Brewer
Your server and/or bartender should be able to take you on a beer adventure. Talking to them about the beers they are pouring should be both fun & informational, and not just them handing you menu and a cash transaction.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Here is what I am suggesting: if you visit a retailer that is serving Michigan craft beer on draft, and you feel they are hitting these four things – Freshness, Proper Glassware, Proper Pour & Educated Staff – ask them this question: “When was the last time your lines were cleaned?”
I can guarantee that the staff who work in a retailer who cleans their draft lines every 14 days will happily tell you how recent it was. If your server and/or bartender is one of us, give them a high-five and say, “THANKS!!!”
Thanks for drinking Michigan craft beer!
The New Brewer: Ramping Up Server Training by Ginger Tin
CraftBeer.com: Craft Beer Musings – The Science Behind Foam by Allan Wolfe
Washington Beer Blog: The Elephant in The Room – Dirty Draft Beer Lines by Kendall Jones
Brewers Association: Draught Beer Quality for Retailers
Brewers Association: Beer Server Training for Brewpubs – A Manual For Hiring, Training & Retaining Great People
Garry Boyd is the creative force behind BarFly Ventures’ Food, Beverage & Cultural Innovation team at HopCat, Stella’s Lounge, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, The Waldron and TikiCat – 5 concepts based (mostly) in Grand Rapids, but expanding rapidly throughout the nation. Garry oversees all food & beverage menu development, as well as the sustainability and charity initiatives for the BarFly Ventures concepts. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Brewers Guild where he chairs both the Sustainability and Quality subcommittees. Outside of being a father of three, Garry feels his greatest contributions to society are the invention of HopCat’s Crack Fries™ and the famous Stuffed Burgers at Stella’s Lounge. He has a passion for bartending, craft cocktails, and Michigan craft beer. He has spent 25 years in the industry, mostly busing tables and changing burned out light bulbs. He is partial to the #5, and his favorite band is The Cure.
Check out Garry’s presentation “Tipsy Turkey & Drunken Gravy” on the Meijer Food Stage at 6pm on Thursday, 7pm on Friday and 3pm on Saturday as well as “KBS Beer Fudge” at 9pm on Saturday. For other workshops and demonstrations: showspan.com/GRW/seminar-schedule.