Drinking a perfectly poured, draught beer is pretty easy. In fact, at times, maybe it is a little too easy. It seems to be a simple and beautiful thing. But like many simple and beautiful things, there’s a lot more to making it happen perfectly than may first appear.
To begin, there is the quality and freshness of the product itself. Most draught beers are not pasteurized so they require constant refrigeration and a steady temperature like milk. Beer doesn’t do well when it freezes; and above 38 degrees, it begins to sour. So the refrigeration system must be properly working and maintained to keep beer in this temperature range at all times. It’s not good for beer to be stored in a cooler with other restaurant items especially when cooks are opening and closing the cooler in a warm kitchen. The system requires application of a gas, usually CO2, occasionally NO or a blend depending on the type of beer and system. The system needs to be designed so that resistance in the system through tubing, distance and vertical lift is in balance with the amount of pressure being applied to the system. Like any package beer, draught containers need to be rotated so that the oldest beer is dispensed through the system first.
All of this leads to some key parts that need to be in working order. Lines can’t be crimped or damaged. The gas source needs to have a supply of gas. A coupler sets on the keg and hooks the air going into the keg and the line carrying beer out to the faucet. The beer line travels through a tour and to a faucet which needs to be working to open and close the beer flow to the glass. If the system is further from where the beer is stored there are additional components. Lines on a long draw system warm up over their length and to avoid waste and lead to proper dispensing, a system is used to keep them cold. All of the various parts of the system require regular routine cleaning and maintenance by a qualified professional. It’s not necessary for a bar owner or manager to be able to do this by themselves but good owners and managers learn enough about the process to be able to check that the work is being done correctly. You should never waste multiple beer glasses due to pouring foam in a properly set up, balanced and maintained system. There should be little to no waste.
Once the beer gets in good shape to the faucet the work still isn’t finished. The glass (usually in the USA – a shaker pint glass) needs to be specially cleaned for beer. This involves a special cleaning process with a specific type of detergent and sanitizer along with clean rinsing. The test for a beer glass is how well the glass holds beer foam on the top of a glass. An improperly cleaned glass has a rapid settling of beer foam; a properly cleaned on retains the bubbles which lace on the side after each sip. If the glass is clean and system is properly cleaned the beer will taste exactly as the brewer created it. That’s the goal – to make the system and glass fade into the background other than showcasing the appearance, aroma and flavor of the brand of beer being dispensed.
The last step is making sure that the proper technique is being used to open and close the faucet in one motion and angle the glass before straightening it about 2/3 to ¾ of the way through the pour to get a perfect draught with a nice ribbon of foam releasing the aroma and flavor of the beer.
If all of this is done right it is a profitable and appreciated component of any bar or restaurant. It will add to the customer’s enjoyment of meals or their beer and encourage repeat sales and visits. It is an easy thing to appreciate and enjoy but to get it right there is planning, investment, good procedures and fundamentals to hit a consistent successful service standard. The Brewers Association produces a Draft Quality Manual that can be obtained and walks any bar owner or manager through all of the information and steps needed to serve great draught beer. I highly recommend getting and reading the manual.