Synonymous with sporting events, concerts, and warm summer evenings on the patio, beer is often thought of as a low-maintenance adult beverage. But when it comes to beer on draft, there is an art to pouring a good pint. Giving your technique a little extra attention almost guarantees a better flavor experience, no matter your beer of choice.
The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of things that can actually be wrong with your pour. Luckily, it’s really not that hard to master the craft. With just a few small details in place, each pour can be better than the one before. We spoke to the professionals about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to serving up an ale.
The Most Common Beer Pouring Mistakes, According the Pros:
- A straight pour
- Poor pressure management
- Cleanliness (of both lines and glassware)
- Temperature (of both beer and glassware)
- Foam quality
“Wrong glass temperature. When the glass is too cold, it causes the beer to become overly frothy, resulting in the loss of beer. Chilling anything behind a bar can be a way to mask unwanted flavor, but for beers with an abundance of flavors, you should try not to mask them. Lighter beers should be served colder than darker beers. Glassware should be stored in a cool (but not chilled), dark place.” —Daniel Watson, lead bartender at Urban Farmer, Philadelphia
“The most common problem I see when people pour draft beer is the mismanagement of either pressure or temperature. Beer, like any carbonated beverage, is a liquid supersaturated with carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide wants to get out of that unbalanced state, so it will jump out of solution at any opportunity, sometimes violently. Think of the Mentos in a two-liter of Coca-Cola experiment. One example will be at the keg at the neighbor’s backyard get-together. It seems only natural to pump the tap when getting a beer. All one is doing, however, is over-pressurizing the keg and instead of getting the beer out quicker, all one gets is foam. This also occurs when bartenders pour beer as fast as possible. Quickly poured beer rarely means quicker served beer because of all the foaming such force can create. However, the opposite can occur; too little pressure applied to the beer will result in the beer pouring in a turbulent, corkscrewing fashion, again causing a glass full of foam.” —Clay Gentry, co-owner of Hello Monty, Chattanooga, Tenn.
“There are a few [common mistakes], and they all center around cleanliness. Not having ‘beer clean’ drinkware, where one can clearly see any residual oils. They cause carbonation bubbles that cling to the dirty spot. Letting the tip of the beer faucet submerge as the glass fills. This creates a great place for bacteria to multiply that produce off flavors (not the kind that gets one sick, though). Not regularly cleaning the draft lines from keg to faucet, and disassembling and cleaning the faucets every two weeks. Scrimping on this expense/labor is the quickest way to pour off-flavored beers, which color the consumers’ impressions of an establishment as well as possibly their impression of the brewery for whose product the establishment is responsible. How to avoid this? Clean!” —Adam Tolsma at Tap on Ponce at Ponce City Market, Atlanta
“If you’re getting massive foam/overflow, always side pour. When pouring a beer, tilt your glass to the side instead of towards you to better control and reduce foam.” —Mark Northrop, certified beer server, Hoppin’ Greenville, Greenville, S.C.
“Regularly clean your system. There’s a heavy focus on sanitation in brewing, so retailers should be diligent with not compromising the product before it gets to guests. The cleaning routine should not just include the lines, but also the faucet that the product is dispensed from and the coupler that is attached to the keg. Any excess particles can throw off the science that gave you a well-made beer and result in foam, discoloration, and altered taste. That being said, the exterior of the nozzle is dirty and should not touch your beer!” —Matt Harding, assistant general manager and beverage director of Time Out Market Boston, Boston
“To start, cleanliness is essential for a perfect pour. If the beer glass isn’t completely clean, the pour can be too foamy. At the bar, we also make sure that the draught beer lines are clean and serviced every week, and that all glasses are free of residue. It’s OK to use a chilled glass, but anything too cold will cause too much foam. Refrigeration temperature is also important, as 36-38 degrees is ideal. Too cold or too warm, and you won’t get a proper pour.” —Shane McGowan, partner/owner and beverage director at Tavern on State and Fair Haven Oyster Co., New Haven, Conn.
“Use the 50/50 rule: Hold the glass from the bottom so your hands aren’t where people’s mouths will be going. And also watch the temperature of the glass. I have poured beer into a hot glass before, and it exploded. So, if you’re taking it out of the dishwasher, let it cool down!” —Michael Addison, bartender, Night Shift Brewing Taproom, Everett, Mass.
“Why do North Americans want beer without any head? I think Western culture lives in a world of always wanting more, and the visual of having beer with foam on top feels like they are being shortchanged. People want beer to the brim! With most European beers, their pint glasses usually have a marking where the beer ends and the foam starts. Most even list the amount of ounces up to that line.” —Pete Nguyen, chief creative officer, marketing director, and partner at Sea Change Brewing Co., Edmonton, Canada
“In my opinion, the No. 1 mistake most unknown to the common drinking community is the glass itself; more specifically, what it is cleaned with. The industry term I am referring to is ‘beer-clean glass.’ The anti-foaming agents and surfactants that exist in common dish soap and dishwasher detergents essentially attack your hop profiles through an immediate forced release of carbonation on contact. This will also completely diminish the head retention and degrade your flavor experience overall. So, how do you avoid this flavor atrocity? It’s actually a very simple fix that you can solve with common household items. The most common ‘beer safe’ cleaning solution you can make at home is a mixture of OxiClean and vinegar. If you want to purchase a more specific cleaner, [try] BeerBrite. Whether you use a homemade mix or purchase a beer-specific oxidizer, the benefits you will gain will be notable in a side-by-side taste test. With the cost of craft beer, don’t you want all you paid for?” —Wayne Humphrey, co-founder of My Local Brew Works, Philadelphia
“While this can vary depending on the type of beer, there is one place to start. Tilt the glass about 45 degrees. Pull the tap open quickly and fully, which will help reduce excess foam. When the glass is half full, slowly tip the glass fully upright. Close the tap when the beer is a little below the top of the glass.” —Jason Suss, owner, A Proper Pour, Minneapolis, Minn.
“Don’t keep dumping the foam off of the beer. Let it flow!” —Joe Schulte, bartender, Night Shift Brewing Taproom, Everett, Mass.
“People always set the glass down and pour from above. My pro tip is to tilt the glass to 45 degrees and open the tap all the way up. This prevents too much or overflowing head on the beer.” —Danielle Quigley, event manager, The Golden Mill, Golden, Colo.
“Pouring beers with too little foam/head and generally not understanding that the foam makes the beer taste better. Brewers care a lot about the physical properties of the foam; how it looks, how tight the bubbles are, how long it lasts, etc. because it’s an essential part of tasting. High-quality foam can elevate a mediocre beer, whereas low-quality foam diminishes even the most well-made beers.” —Taylor Faulk, head brewer/managing partner, Sea Change Brewing Co., Edmonton, Canada
“Not all taps are created equal. Some pour better than others and are easier to clean. There are specific taps as well as systems used to pour specific beers. It may seem at first that you can keg any beer to any tap, but that will affect the quality of the pour. Make sure you have the correct beer and system combinations before you pour!” —Norbert Zareba, lead bartender, The Workshop Lounge at the Foundry Hotel, Asheville, N.C.