Fixing the Foam
Confession… as a former bartender and college student, I’ve tapped many kegs in my time but never really understood what I was doing and when trouble happened, it was usually one of my employers who fixed it. By the end of my time as a bartender I was chock full of “beer lore” – those bits of knowledge passed from seniors to freshmen, experienced bartenders to newbies that are often taken as “beer truth.” The biggest piece of “lore”: if the beer is foamy, turn down the pressure. (By the way, this is WRONG*).
So, I’m studying for a beer exam, reading about draft systems and feeling more than a little at sea. Looking around for draft system resources I find a reference to the Micro Matic Beer Dispense Institute. Looks interesting. I run it by my boss and soon I am heading to Rockford, Illinois for 3 days of draft systems training.
The first morning was a little nerve-wracking. I didn’t know anyone and I’m not sure what to expect. I’m the first one in the lobby to meet the shuttle driver, mostly so I can snag the front seat (my carsickness is no one’s friend.) People slowly start making their way into the lobby and soon we are loaded and on our way to the Micro Matic facility.
The group consisted of craft beer guys, a beer delivery driver, some wholesaler reps, some restaurateurs and a couple of install guys. We were from all over the place: Detroit, Las Vegas, Ohio, Chicago, Kansas, Indiana, even British Columbia! And we all wanted to learn about how to best serve our customers and our beer. Neat.
First day was a thorough grounding. I learned the ins and outs of the different system types and all of their moving parts. In teams we built short-draw draft systems and learning the science of balancing a system. Also safety training (CO2 is scary in a lot of ways!) This safety training sort of reminded me of drivers’ ed. Scare you so you never do that! Whatever that is.
Second day was more technical (which I love, being a true nerd.) Learned to figure the proper pressures for long draw/glycol cooled systems with mixed gas needs and different line diameters and lengths. Then we broke out into different teams and built a long draw, glycol-cooled system. Each team was assigned different system lengths and tubing diameters and one team was working with a nitro beer so we all checked in with them.
Third day was troubling-shooting; the instructor introduced lots of problems to the systems we built on day two. We had to find all of the problems and get the systems back into balance. Then we reviewed cleaning practices – both static and recirculating – and practiced what we learned. The final step was breaking down the systems that we had built which was its own set of issues. Messy but really fun.
I had a great time learning about dispense systems and came away with a practical, working knowledge that will not only help me with my exam but in the real world. And thanks to my fellow students and to John Linquist, a great instructor.
*Turn the pressure up on foamy beer. The CO2 is coming out of solution and needs the pressure to keep it where it belongs
This has nothing to do with draft beer but it is foamy, and science-y and we’ve all done it: bottle foams over