Pouring Your Way Out of a Tight Spot: What to Do When Your Keg Misbehaves

by | Sep 15, 2015 | Better Bartending, Cocktail Skills | 1 comment

Pouring a Perfect Draft

Pouring a perfect draft is one of the simplest and most important skills a bartender needs to possess. A poorly executed draft is a sure sign of an amateur bartender, and most guests will notice immediately. By holding the glass at a forty-five degree angle, turning it upright for the last inch or so of liquid, and by pulling the tap fully open when pouring, a perfect pour is achieved. Sometimes, however, it is not as simple as that.

If you’re in the weeds on a Saturday night, there isn’t time to diagnose a malfunctioning tap system. Every moment spent fixing it is another moment that you are losing money. There is hope, however! Observe the following tips and you can get through this rush efficiently and productively.

… When the Beer doesn’t Foam

If the beer is not foaming, you’ll have to make a judgement call. The longer a keg is left connected to a CO2 line suspected of having a leak, the higher the likelihood that it will go flat from continuous exposure to air. If the keg is brand new, it is usually not worth the risk to keep it connected unless you’re very busy, as you will only end up losing product in the long run. Now if the keg that’s malfunctioning is popular and you believe the remainder of beer within it can be used in the next few hours, go for it! Closing the tap halfway and pouring will create the desired head to top off your glasses. A proper head is essential to releasing all of the flavors of the beer, and a beer with no head will be assumed as an indicator of flat beer, even when it’s not. Always ensure with a taste test that the product does not taste flat before serving to your guests from a keg in this manner.

… If the tap is Over-Foaming

If your tap is over-foaming, it is likely that the keg just needs the chance to settle. The simplest fix is time. With a little time the beer will settle and the foam will dissipate. This is true of beer in the keg and in the glass. Many bars will grab a pitcher at this point and “bleed the line” of foam so as to get the keg flowing correctly. This wastes a lot of product and is not recommended in ideal situations, but again, a judgement call is often necessary.

It Depends on the Situation

When I was serving two dollar twenty-two ounce beers at an extremely high-volume restaurant of five-thousand square feet, it was all about moving this insanely popular special quickly and efficiently, as the beer itself was dirt cheap. There, it was best to just pour off the foam from the top of the keg into a pitcher to get the line moving smoothly again. Depending on the amount of scrutiny you’re under from guest eyes, and how long it takes the beer to settle (will it become warm?), you can often let this perfectly good beer sit for a moment and pour it from the pitcher anyway. Send any beers like that out to the service bar, if you have one, since bar guests usually watch closely as you pour their drinks and will take exception.

Foamy Tap Cheats

There are two more techniques that I use to keep a foamy tap flowing that do not waste beer or involve allowing it to settle on its own with time. The first one is for those bartenders who utilize frozen or refrigerated glasses. Using cold glassware can really wow a guest and is a small thing that I highly recommend doing. Even the healthiest keg, however, will sometimes foam immediately on contact with an ice cold glass. Warming the side of the glass with one’s hand at the point where the flowing beer first makes contact with the glass can make a dramatic difference in how smoothly and normally the beer will pour. Secondly, if you have a number of orders off of the same tap at once, pour one beer after another without closing the tap in between. The initial opening of the tap creates a burst of foam that isn’t always desirable, so pouring in this way can be a simple fix.

Making The Best of it

Most people won’t say anything about an incorrectly poured beer, but it’s a big deal. The discerning beer drinker will silently make the judgement that you don’t know what you’re doing back there and withhold those precious dollars. Beer is simple but that only increases the need for it to be done right. How can a guest expect you to make a Manhattan or a Cosmo correctly if you cannot execute a beer? Use these tips and you can retain your customer’s confidence and keep things moving quickly until your keg’s problems can be diagnosed.