There is nothing worse than pouring a pint from the keg you tapped last week and finding that the pint has an “off” mouthfeel. In the evaluation of beer, texture can be a neglected category, especially in the era of super-hopped IPAs and adjunct-heavy stouts and porters. If a peanut butter and jelly porter is a bit flat, or a 7000 IBU Triple Imperial, Double Dry-Hopped IPA has a bit too much bite from carbonation, it may be overshadowed by the fact that you’re drinking sandwich filling or having all the enamel stripped off your teeth.
You may be nodding your head in agreement as you sip on a Teku full of your favorite $140-a-sixtel beer, but wonder, “What can I do? I didn’t brew the beer. If the mouthfeel is off, then it is one hundred percent the fault of the brewer.”
But carbonation is something that YOU--yes, you the beertender--have control over. How do you know if you have something wrong? There are, indeed, telltale signs.
Signs of Over-Carbonation
- Looks. It resembles a pint of seltzer water, with lots of small bubbles rushing up from the bottom of the glass.
- Taste. It’s sharp and acidic. When you combine CO2 with water you get carbonic acid. Bitey beers that weren’t intended to be bitey are not fun to drink.
- Smell. You may be able to pick up a bit of the acid as the bubbles pop in the general vicinity of your sniffer.
- Texture. Feels like Pop Rocks in your mouth (in a bad way).
Signs of Under-Carbonation
- Looks. It’s practically still, like apple juice.
- Taste. Flat and dull. Not a whole lot going on.
- Smell. You perceive less aromatics than you would with a properly carbonated beer.
- Texture. It feels thinner or more watery than you would expect it to.
As with many things in life, the best defense is a strong offense. (Thanks, Beer Coach Madden!) The way to keep your kegged beer properly carbonated is to maintain balance in your system. You may have googled this stuff and been totally thrown off by the formulas. You may have googled line balancing and thought, “Well, that is just for big bars.” You may have even googled the subject and thought, “Well, I’ll just have another beer.”
Since math is hard after a few pints, here are some suggestions from beer pros that should work out well for most of us (or at least those of us at or around sea level. Sorry, Denver.)
CO2 Gauge Pressure Settings
Because a draft beer system is a closed system, what you put in directly corresponds to what you put out. Setting your CO2 gauge correctly when you tap the keg will prevent both over- and under-carbonation. For most ales (including pale ales, IPAs, ambers, etc.) that come from the brewery with a carbonation volume of about 2.1 to 2.6, you want to set your regulator from about 7 to 13 psi. For lagers, a regulator set between 10 and 14 psi works best. Continental and light pilsners require slightly higher CO2 regulator settings, from 11 to 16 psi. Wheat beers, Belgian beers, and common American sours are generally the most carbonated beers, requiring about 15 to 20 psi. Stouts should be poured with beer gas and a stout faucet, using a nitrogen regulator at about 35 to 38 psi.
No matter what beer you are drinking, following the simple suggestions from CO2 regulator settings should provide you with the right mouthfeel for the beer.