What mix of gas is in my beer and why should I care?
Most bars in New Orleans use straight CO2 to push their drafts. This works great if you are selling large quantities of only one or two beers. Any more than that and the CO2 will over carbonate the kegs and you end of with a product that’s all foam and no liquid. I’m sure you’ve seen bartenders have to pour two or three glasses of foam before they get a servable product.
To get around this some bars use the “Guinness” gas mix on all their beers. Its works great for Guinness and some stouts but ales lagers, pilsners and ciders turn out flat. Of course that’s great for the bar’s profit margin because there is no waste in the form of the foam they pour off. Its not the greatest way to taste a draft beer though. We use a high tech system that mixes CO2 and Nitrogen for each type of beer. That way ales taste the way they are supposed to, lagers taste the way they are supposed to, ciders aren’t flat and Guinness and other stouts turn out perfect each time. Its an expensive system and only three bars in the city have it but it makes ALL the difference in the product you taste in that pint glass.
The beer is fresh…but how clean are those lines the beer ran through to get to your pint glass?
Many state’s health departments inspect beer lines and test the bacteria and pH level of the beer that is poured through draft lines. Not so in Louisiana; the beer distributors are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the lines in this state. Some distributors are rock stars about this (Glazer’s, for example)….others aren’t (we wont name names).
We replaced all our lines in Feb 2010 and maintain a 2 week cleaning schedule. We do not allow the distributors to clean our lines. We have our own equipment and clean them ourselves. Not every bar does this though….in fact most do not. Ask a bartender in almost any other bar in the city when the last time a line for a particular beer was cleaned and see if they can tell you. They probably can’t. That same bartender can probably tell you which companies are neglectful. I wont mention names but it’s a common problem that much of the industry is aware of.
How far did the beer have to travel from the keg to get to my glass?
Many bars, including some that are VERY well known for their beer selections, have kegs that are located 30 feet or more from the taps they are poured though. That means the beer you are drinking hasn’t been sitting in the keg prior to pouring but in a clear plastic line that may or may not be clean (the clear plastic is a problem because light is one of the major enemies of good beer).
Our kegs are located directly behind the taps you see on the wall…less than a foot from your glass! Order a beer that is poured less frequently in one of those bars with thirty foot lines and you are probably drinking a beer that’s been in that thirty foot line for days. The beer probably looks the same because that bar is using glycol to keep their lines cool and pushing the beer with too much nitrogen to keep the foam under control. It doesn’t taste the same though!
What kind of glassware are you drinking your beer in?
Domestic drafts are designed to be stored and served in ice cold conditions. A frosted mug makes a MHL or Budweiser taste and feel refreshing. Domestic craft beer, European beers, and micro brews shouldn’t be served in cold glassware. Cold will make an IPA taste bitter and mask the flavors of a good handcrafted beer like NOLA brown brew! Ideally you would want to store some beers, like IPAs, at cellar temperature…the way you do a good bottle of red wine but for draft that would require expensive dual cooling systems. If you love IPAs served at the warmer temperature they were designed to be served at, then order a bottle or let your glass warm a bit before drinking it!
Most of this probably doesn’t matter if you are consistently ordering Coors Light draft. We love draft beer though, and if you try some of the specialty beers….poured the right way….we think you will see the difference! Next time you are out, start out at one of those uptown college bars that are known for their beer and order a draft. Then come to our bar. You will taste a difference!