One of the most obvious things to anyone when pouring a beer might not always be the type of glass or working on the proper pour, though if you've been reading Hop Chatter on gotbeer.com we hope that those topics have come up. Rather, it's pouring the beer into a clean glass.
Seriously, could you imagine if you went to a bar and you saw the bartender clear glassware off the counter, pour out whatever remaining liquid was in, say, a nonic pint, fill it up with your order, and hand it to you? No! That's disgusting! And, more importantly, what if the patron before you was drinking a Saranac Basking in Bourbon and you ordered a Mad Jack Pinhead Pilsner? Any remaining stout would completely overpower the flavor of your pilsner.
Now, one might think, what's the big deal? A little soap, a little water, a quick shake dry and the glass is ready to go again, right? Well, not exactly.
While the soap and water would certainly sanitize the glass, a beer clean glass is a glass specifically cleaned for the next draught of beer. According to KegWorks, beer clean is actually an “industry term describing a glass that is free of any impurities that would give CO2 a place to cling to, ensuring the beer's best look and taste.”
Any impurity or residue could form a film on the glass, which could quickly release the CO2 in the beer and could adversely affect taste. Likewise, beer clean also ensures a foam head is created by small CO2 bubbles and should last for the majority of the drinking, depending on how fast or slow one drinks.
Again, one might think dish soap and warm water should do the trick, however, dish soap that's oil or fat based or even scented soaps can leave a film on any glass. The first step to getting a beer clean glass is to use a glass specific, or at least non-oil, non-fat based, and scentless, detergent.
Any impurity on the glass could affect the taste and CO2 release, such as food residue, bacteria, or chemicals. These impurities could be on the glass because of the cleaning process, which is why it's important when cleaning a beer glass to ensure the cleaning area is properly sanitized and beer glasses are washed separately and in scalding water. Likewise, if one were to use a sink, it's important that the sink is properly sanitized and clean as well.
To continue with cleaning, it's also important how the glass got messy. If one were to drink other liquids from a beer glass, such as milk, juices and sodas, these could leave a fatty or sugary film on the glass that does not come off during the cleaning process. And, especially for those at home, think about the shape of a glass like the pilsner flute. In order to truly scrub any residue off the bottom, one would need either a specialty brush or a makeshift one.
When drying, a glass can be contaminated with bacteria from a towel or not being given a chance to air dry properly. To dry a glass properly, letting it breathe and letting air circulate freely in a non-smokey environment is key.
Bartenders or bar owners can take beer clean to the next level and ensuring their taps are cleaned as well. Gotbeer’s very own MacKenzie Zarzycki wrote a great article/video here detailing how bacteria, yeast, and beer stone in the lines of the tap can “infect” the beer and cause unwanted flavors. Plus, it’s not the safest thing to drink.
Finally, there are three easy ways to tell if one's glass is beer clean.
First, the water test. Beer clean glasses should have water evenly coat the interior of the glass, without that water forming droplets and unevenly coating the interior.
Second, the salt test. With a mildly damp glass, coat the inside of the glass with salt. The glass should have salt evenly distributed throughout. Any clumps of salt or streaks reveal an impurity. This is very similar to the water test.
Last, and this is the most fun way to test one's glass, the lacing test. A beer clean glass should form a good head with small CO2 bubbles. This head should last and form rings of foam, or laces, down the glass after each sip.
Now, I'd love to hear from you all. Have you been drinking from beer clean glasses at home all along, or is this going to be something you'll try to ensure your home bar is on par with top notch bars? Feel free to let me know!
Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.