Beer glassware: Cleaning a glass

The “Beer glassware” series explores glassware selection, cleaning, and preparation for service. New to the series? Start here.

Now that we’ve selected the glass that best suits our beer, it’s time to give it a clean. (If you’re wondering why we should even bother with glassware or how to select the right glass for a certain beer style, learn more here.)

In order to create the perfect pour, beer should always be poured into a glass that’s not just clean, but “beer clean”.

Below you’ll learn how to tell if your glass is actually “beer clean”, along with four of the most common methods for glass washing that will ensure a spotless glass for your next pour.

So what actually is a “beer clean” glass?

Beer clean glassware is free of soil and free of oil – this means it doesn’t contain any dirt or dust (the soil) or any oily, fatty or greasy residues (the oil) – as the presence of any of these impurities will negatively impact a beer’s appearance.

And how can we tell if our glass is “beer clean”?

There are a few different tell-tale signs, as seen in the illustration below:

Signs of a dirty glass are:

  • Any residue, like lipstick, on the rim of the glass
  • Poor head formation, meaning there isn’t much foam on top of the beer when it’s poured (the foam will also collapse, or dissipate, more quickly in a dirty glass, too), and
  • Bubbles clinging to the inside of the glass (What does this tell us? Well, bubbles don’t stick to glass, they stick to stuff on glass, so this indicates the presence of an oily residue.)

On the other hand, a beer clean glass has:

  • A more stable head of foam – meaning good head size, shape, and retention
  • A clean glass surface, and
  • During consumption, a lacing of beer foam will cling to the inside of the glass following each sip

There are also a few tests we can do after we’ve cleaned our glass – but before we fill it with beer – to ensure that it’s beer clean, but we’ll start with the cleaning methods first.


Glass cleaning procedures

Approaches to glass washing vary around the world.

Below you’ll find images and videos that help bring four of the most common glass cleaning procedures to life: the three-sink method, two-sink method, Spülboy, and glass washing machine.

Before we even get to the methods though, here’s an important reminder: every glass must be cleaned before filling… meaning a used glass should never be refilled.

#1: Three-sink method

In the three-sink method, there are (you guessed it!) three sinks. Each should be prepared as follows (left to right):

  • The first sink should be filled with warm water and a non-petroleum based (sudsless) detergent
  • The second sink should contain cool, clean rinse water that is being continually refreshed through use of an overflow tube
  • The third sink should contain hot water and an appropriate sanitiser at the correct concentration as specified by the manufacturer

Once the sinks are prepared, here’s how to clean a glass using this method:

  1. Empty the glass into an open drain, not into the rinse water (that’s what the funnel is for in the image above)
  2. Wash the glass in the first sink with soap and a brush
  3. Rinse the glass in cold water in the second sink, “heel in, heel out
  4. Rinse the glass in sanitiser in the third sink, “heel in, heel out
  5. Dry the glass inverted on a rack so air circulates inside

(What does “heel in, heel out” mean? When rinsing, we want to put the base of the glass into the water first; then after the glass has been fully submerged and filled with water, the base of the glass is removed from the water first. This ensures an even coating of the rinse water or sanitiser inside the glass.)

To see this process in action, check out the video below. (The “heel in, heel out” step is shown at 1:55).

#2: Two-sink method

As the name suggests, this method is pretty similar to the three-sink method… but with two sinks only.

The two sinks should be prepared as follows (left to right):

  • The first sink should be filled with warm water and a non-petroleum based (sudsless) detergent
  • The second sink should contain cool, clean rinse water that is being continually refreshed through use of an overflow tube
  • Note: There is no sanitiser tub in this set up.

Once the sinks are prepared, here’s how to clean a glass using this method:

  1. Empty the glass into an open drain, not into the rinse water
  2. Wash the glass in the first sink with soap and a brush
  3. Rinse the glass in cold water in the second sink, “heel in, heel out
  4. Dry the glass inverted on a rack so air circulates inside
#3: Spülboy

The Spülboy is a glass washing unit that’s great for small spaces, as only one sink is needed.

It’s probably easiest to learn about this method by seeing it in action, so check out this video to understand how the Spülboy works then look out for the recap below:

Here’s a quick recap of the main points from the video:

  1. Set up the Spülboy by:
    • Connecting it to the tap to provide water to the glass rinser
    • Installing the cleaning brushes
    • Filling the brush bucket with clean water and detergent
  2. Empty the glass into an open drain
  3. Clean the glass in the brush bucket (which cleans the inside and outside of the glass simultaneously)
  4. Rinse the glass using Spülboy glass rinser (which rinses the inside and outside of the glass simultaneously)
  5. Dry the glass inverted on a rack so air circulates inside
#4: Glass washing machine

Our last glass cleaning method is the use of a glass washing machine. Glass washers are very similar to at-home dishwashers, but with one main difference: a glass washing machine should be used for beer glassware only.

This means it should not be used to clean dishes or glassware with any food or dairy residue (like coffee mugs or cocktail glassware and shakers), because fats and oils from the food or dairy residue will coat the inside of the beer glassware. And while they might look clean… they won’t be “beer clean”.

Here’s how to use one:

  1. Empty the glass into an open drain (not into the glass washer; there should be a sink nearby)
  2. Place the glass upside down on the rack of the dishwasher
  3. Run the wash cycle according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  4. After washing, dry the glass inverted on a rack so air circulates inside

This video shows you what a glass washer looks like inside and how to keep it working properly.

(Note: If you’re prepping for the Certified Beer Server exam, according to the Cicerone® Certification Program, all glassware should be dried inverted on a rack so air circulates inside. Ignore the timings listed here and the suggestion of turning the glasses upright for quicker drying.)

As mentioned in the video, here are a few last notes on how to keep a glass washer working well:

  • Use the correct detergent and sanitiser, checking the concentrations daily or following supplier recommendations
  • Make sure the water temperature is in the appropriate range of 54–60 °C (130–140 °F). (Unless it’s a high temperature machine that operates with a water temperature of 82 °C (180 °F) in place of chemical sanitisers.)
  • Maintain the washer to ensure the proper flow of water through each nozzle and washer arm
  • Periodically check the interior of the machine to be sure that it is free of mould and debris, and
  • Regularly service the machine following manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure proper operation

The final step: drying

After cleaning, all glassware should be dried inverted on a rack so that air can circulate inside, as shown below.

Putting our glassware to the test

Once we’ve cleaned our glass, we’ve got two ways to double-check that it’s actually “beer clean” before we fill it with beer: the sheeting test and the salt test.

Sheeting Test:

In the sheeting test, the interior of the glass is wet and then emptied.

In a beer clean glass, water should sheet off of the glass evenly; formation of any droplets or webbing as the water leaves the glass indicates that the glass is not beer clean.

Did you catch this test in action in the Spülboy video? If not, go check it out again.

Salt Test:

With the salt test, the glass interior is wet, then emptied and sprinkled with salt throughout. Places where salt does not adhere are not beer clean.

You can see this test in action in the three-sink method video above.

Beer clean glassware at home

As the above glass washing recommendations are for bars, pubs and taprooms, you may be left thinking “How do I get beer clean glassware at home?”

Here’s what I’ve found works best: I keep a second sponge that’s used for beer glassware only. This way, none of the oils or fats from my dish sponge make their way into my beer glassware. Find more suggestions from the Cicerone® Certification Program here.

Even though our glass is now “beer clean”, it’s still not quite ready for filling. It’s time to learn our last two steps in preparation for service.


Discovering Beer is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Cicerone® Certification Program.


Brought to you by Beer with Nat

natalya@beerwithnat.com
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