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What Bartenders Should Know About Serving Craft Beer

Working as a bartender in a craft beer-centric establishment is a difficult job filled with an ever changing inventory and a client base that often knows a lot about the product you are serving.  Few service jobs require the level of constant training and instruction that being a craft beer bartender with a rotating selection does.  Here are five basic things every craft beer bartender should know about serving draft beer.  If you are a bar patron and you see your bartender not adhering to these five simple rules, feel free to stand up for yourself and ask him/her why they aren’t.  If you are a bartender not following these guidelines, you should be.

Bartenders who want to prove that they know their craft beer should become ‘Certified Beer Server’ through the Cicerone Certification Program.

1.  Know the basics about the beers you are serving

If your bar regularly changes their selection it can be difficult to keep up with every single beer on tap.  However, if you are familiar with the BJCP style guidelines you will be able to communicate the basics of a new beer to customers as long as you know the style of the beer.  For example, you might not have had Brewery Awesome’s Imperial Stout, but you should be able to tell people about the characteristics of Imperial Stouts if they ask what it’s like.   Of course the more knowledgeable you are about your bar’s specific offerings, the more helpful you will be to your guests.


2.  Choose the appropriate glass for the beer you are about to serve

Every customer should have their beer served to them in the proper glassware for the style when possible.  Not every bar has   a wide assortment of glassware styles, but when possible they should be used appropriately.   The smooth sided ‘shaker’ pint glass now so common in bars is meant to shake cocktails and is about the worst design possible for serving beer.  Shaker pints are inexpensive, durable, and easy to stack and store so many bars adopted them for those practical reasons and even though they are designed to dissipate those very items the glass should enhance—that is: to help stabilize foam and to help entrap beer aroma.  Beer in the proper glassware goes flat less quickly, stays at the preferred temperature longer, and appears to be fuller-flavored and more aromatic.    Link > Should the Shaker Pint Glass Go Away?

3.  Rinse the glass before pouring beer into it

If at all possible, you should have in place a system for rinsing each new glass before putting beer into it.  What this does is remove any dust or detergent residue from the glass before you put beer into it thus ensuring that the customer is only tasting the beer they purchased and not leftover sanitizer from your dishwasher.  Many better beer bars are installing glass rinsers, often called star washers, behind the bar to quickly and effectively do just this.  However, a simple bucket of cold sink water will work just fine for rinsing as long as the glass can be fully submerged and the water is changed often.   Another perk is that beer pours better onto a wet surface than a dry one as the friction of a dry glass can cause CO2 to come out of solution and create foam.  As a bartender, see if you can implement this easy glass prep in your bar.  As a customer, this step shows that the bar cares about the beer they’re serving you and they want you enjoy its flavor, not the flavor of the dishwasher.

4.  Never put the faucet into the beer when pouring a draft beer

Don't do this... It's gross!

This is a common practice by bartenders and many think it helps them control foaming as they pour a draft beer.  Properly tuned draft equipment should allow beer to be poured without the need for dunking the faucet into the beer.  If you feel like your beer pours just a little foamy, try opening the faucet completely and letting a small splash of beer flow out of the line and down the drain before putting the glass under the faucet.  This will get rid of any warm beer in the line.  As beer warms CO2 comes out of solution, creating foam.  By dunking the faucet into the beer you are creating a sticky beer covered faucet that is a prime breeding ground for bacteria.   As a bartender, figure out other ways to minimize foaming.  As a customer, be aware of bartenders dunking faucets into pints and decide if you might want to order a bottle instead.


5.  Always give your customers a clean glass

Bubbles on the inside mean a dirty glass

Beer should be served in a clean glass free of debris and things like lipstick, but they should also be free of any residues such as oils or detergents from the washing process.  As a bartender, do a good job washing your glassware and check each glass before you pour beer into it to make sure it’s clean.  As a customer,  if you get your pint and you see bubbles stuck to the inside of the glass (picture to the right) feel free to ask your bartender for a clean one instead.  Residual oils and detergent will also kill the beer’s head retention.

Many times bartenders will take a customer’s dirty glass and refill it from the taps.  Especially if the customer is drinking the same beer, what’s the harm, right?  The harm comes in the form of spreading disease.   Picture a scenario where one customer is sitting at the end of the bar sneezing and coughing up a storm.  The bartender takes the customer’s empty glass from him, refills it from the draft faucet (dunking the faucet into the beer no doubt) and hands it back to the customer.  Congratulations!  Now Patient Zero’s germs are on the draft faucet and will be transferred into every other beer poured from that line that night.  As a bartender, just get in the habit of grabbing a clean glass.  The amount of water and energy used to clean glassware is negligible from an ecological standpoint, and your customers will sleep better knowing that they aren’t being infected with disease.  As a customer, if you see your bartender reusing patrons’ glasses, it’s up to you to decide if you want to stay or head somewhere safer.


Thanks to Cliff Mori, Certified Cicerone for this list.