That first sip of a really great tasting draught beer is a magical moment. The senses are brought to life by the beer’s color, aroma and flavor. The dichotomy of the moment is inspiring: At once a thirst is quenched and an appetite created.
Beertenders are in a service business that is more personal than most service industries.
All who love great beer know this sensation. It might be the 99th trip to a favorite neighborhood beer bar or the first visit at a brewpub discovered while on vacation. It is the instant a brewer hopes for when the inspiration and hard work finds its way from the brewhouse to the pint glass. We know it from the first sip. It’s the beer world’s equivalent of baseball’s perfect game.
Sadly, we also know the feeling of the moment that misses the mark. When the experience is just not what it could have been, not what we remember from the past. It is a promise unfulfilled. And just like the difference between the perfect game and a one hitter, there are a number of little things that can go wrong that are hard to detect until it is too late. The one pitch that hangs in the strike zone or the outfielder playing one step too far from the foul line, and a memorable experience becomes something less than perfect.
Who decides whether or not we have that perfect pint? Let’s call them the Beertender.
Assuming that the brewer has done their job and the distributor handles the product properly and gets the beer delivered fresh, there is no reason why each and every pint of beer should not be perfect. To deliver on the promise requires a dedicated Beertender who worries about everything from temperature in the cooler to the glassware to the knowledge of the staff. Part art, part science and part vaudeville. A great glass of beer does not just happen. Each step along the way helps determine whether you will be smiling the moment that first sip crosses your lips.
In recognition of All About Beer Magazine’s 25th Anniversary, we set out to find the most important factors in a perfect pint. After all, this magazine exists for beer lovers and there is nothing a beer lover loves more than a great draught beer. In talking with Beertenders around the country, we learned what goes into making sure your next pint is your best beer.
1. System Design: What you don’t see really does matter. Yes, the bartender might have a cute smile and there may be tons of interesting breweriana hanging from the rafters, but you have come to find the perfect pint. What’s behind the wall where the tap knobs beckon is more important than you can imagine. A good draught system is critical. One key element that can get ignored is the beer lines. Lines from the cooler to the tap should be short and chilled. “Beer lines need to be refrigerated. All of our lines are no more than nine feet long, which is about a pint or a little more,” says Josh Judy, beverage manager and Beertender at The Flying Saucer in Charlotte, NC, which has 82 taps.
2. Walk-in Coolers: The best draught emporiums have two or more separate coolers to allow beers and ales to be served at their optimum temperature. At Wynkoop Brewing, an always-busy brewpub in Denver, CO, bar manager Scott Stengaard has the Beertender responsibilities for a line up of 10-14 different house brews. He maintains two cooler temperatures: one in the upper 30s for most of the beers and a second at between 43-45 degrees for IPA and ESB that are hand-pumped through a beer engine.
3. Gas Mixture: Most beers are served using carbon dioxide. Some use a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Making sure that the gas mixtures are correct and at the right pressure is critical to proper draught beer service. At Monk’s Café in Philadelphia owner and Beertender Tom Peters runs beers and ales off of three different gas mixtures: straight carbon dioxide, a 75 percent nitrogen and 25 percent carbon dioxide “Guinness mix” and a 30 percent nitrogen and 70 percent carbon dioxide mix. “The right gas mixture and the amount of contact the beer has with the gas is critical to the flavor of the beer,” Peters says.