Imagine the hours of planning, labor, and attention to detail that brewers put into your beer. Meticulous care and thought goes into each step from the recipe to the brew day to packaging and every moment in between. Choosing the best distributors or draught systems is also a high priority. All of these deliberate steps are made to give you the very best beer that a brewer can muster. And all too often these labors of love are denied the respect they deserve because of the very last step of service…
I can’t lie. This is a sensitive topic for me, and I apologize if I come off a bit spicy. But there aren’t many other things that grind my gears like a perfect beer in a dirty glass. The goal of brewing is to enjoy its product, which is difficult to achieve when your glass is smeared with grease or flecks of last night’s dinner special. Few things are more insulting to a brewer than putting their beer in a dirty glass. It’s like stapling a Rembrandt to a piece of corrugated cardboard for framing and hanging it on your wall. You’ve just ruined a beautiful piece of art, or in this case, my beer.
What’s worse is when I see pictures on Instagram or Facebook sporting some of the gnarliest, dirty glasses I’ve seen. Please, please don’t attempt to promote your brewery or restaurant by showing everyone how dirty your glasses are. It has the opposite effect. It’s embarrassing.
That’s my rant. It’s all facts from here on out. I may plead with you a couple more times, but I’m done with the soapbox.
Let’s talk about the term “beer clean”. A beer clean glass is a vessel for holding beer that exhibits a high level of cleanliness, and insures a healthy beer drinking experience. Or, as defined by the Brewer’s Association, a beer clean glass “forms a proper foam head, allows lacing during consumption and never shows patches of bubbles stuck to the side of the glass in the liquid beer.” Any glass that isn’t beer clean doesn’t deserve to hold the sudsy malt beverage. There are several ways to tell if your glass is beer clean, and even more ways to tell if it’s not.
Not Beer Clean
These are sites on the inside of the glass where impurities like soap residue, flecks of food, or old beer allow CO2 to come out of suspension, leaving patchy spots of bubbles clinging to the inside of your glass. Scratches from stacking pint glasses or other misuse can also create nucleation points. Though not technically a sign of a dirty glass, it is aesthetically displeasing. Some nucleation sites are created by etching the bottom of the glass, allowing a continuous flow of bubbles to sustain the foam. This is the only form of nucleation points that does not negatively affect the beer drinking experience.
Grease or other impurities, especially near the top of the glass (lipstick, anyone?), will cause the foam on the top of your beer to disappear quickly. The same effect can be observed when serving a piece of fruit on the rim of your beer glass.
Too Much Foam
If your beer is extremely foamy when you pour it, it may be because the impurities stuck to the inside of the glass are nucleation sites at which the carbonation is escaping from the beer at a very quick rate. However, there are many possible reasons for foamy beer, so do not be quick to assume your glass is dirty if the foam to beer ratio is way out of proportion. Thorough inspection of the glass will tell you if you should suspect a dirty glass is the culprit.
Odd Flavors or Aromas
Why does my beer smell like salmon? Glassware that is washed in the same dishwasher as food plates or food containers runs the risk of smelling or tasting like food. Even beer glasses that share a dishwasher with cocktail glassware can come out gunked up by the dregs of a bloody mary.
There’s no easier way to spot a dirty glass than actually seeing the impurities with your naked eyes. Specks of pepper, thin pieces of onion, hot pink lipstick – it could be anything, but they all have the same effect of making you think twice about the cleanliness of the establishment. Mistakes happen, but if you can look around and see your glass isn’t the only bad apple, you start to wonder about the apple tree.
If a glass is beer clean, water should sheet off of it evenly. Water will take the path of least resistance, so if you see it avoiding certain spots or leaving water droplets behind, it might be dirty. Think about the way water sheets off of a clean windshield, and then think about how water collects on a dirty windshield. It’s the same idea.
A properly made beer poured into a properly cleaned glass should almost always have long-lasting foam on the top. Some beer styles produce more foam than others, and some produce almost none at all, so a bit of style knowledge helps.
As the beer is consumed, lacing should be left behind in the glass. This shows the level of the beer in the glass after each sip, and appears as rings of remnant foam that looks like lace. It’s a beautiful reminder as you drink that your beer is being presented to you in a beer clean glass.
So how can you make glassware beer clean?
Use a dedicated brush and sudsless soap. Using the same brush, scrubber, or cloth that you use for food can cause the glass to smell like food. Using soap that creates suds can leave residue on your glass that impedes foam. Try using a tiny bit of OxiClean, and rinse thoroughly.
Dry upside down on a clean drying rack, preferably away from food prep areas. This insures airflow inside the glass and prevents capturing moisture inside the glass where mold can grow. Storing the glass upside down prevents dust or pet hair from settling inside the glass.
Rinse with cold water before dispensing beer. This removes any dust or particles that may have settled in the glass during storage, and reduces the temperature of glassware that may still be warm from washing.
At The Bar or Restaurant
A dishwasher dedicated to cleaning beer glassware or the proper use of the three sink system is the only way to insure your beer glasses don’t smell like things that aren’t beer. In fact, the glasses themselves shouldn’t smell like anything.
As you would at home, dry glasses upside down on a clean drying rack, and rinse with cold water before dispensing beer.
Making sure your glassware is beer clean may seem tedious. However, the alternative is gross, and insulting to the brewers that take pride in their creations. Pay respect to our beloved beverage by giving it a vessel that is free of harmful impurities. Your beer deserves beer clean glassware, and you deserve the best possible beer experience!
Here’s to being beer clean!