Belgian Beer vs. American Macro: Which Has Better Lacing?

July 16,2010 by 29 Comments

Beer lacing adds to the appearance of a beer. A pattern of foam that clings to the glass is a beautiful sight to behold.

The ingredients of beer, and their quality, contribute to the lacing.

Watch the video to learn the cause of this phenomenon and then see who comes out on top in a head-to-head beer lacing showdown: A traditional Belgian Ale or a light American Macrobrew.

Do you like beer lacing on your glass?

About Billy Broas

He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

29 responses to “Belgian Beer vs. American Macro: Which Has Better Lacing?”

  1. Jorge says:

    Good lacing is also sign of a healthy beer…

    Did you pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan with your Michelob Ultra?

    Anyways… it would’ve been nice to compare Orval with another Belgian Pale Ale, or at least any other Pale Ale…

    So far, the beer with the best lacing I’ve brewed was a Russian Imperial Stout…

    Great video!

  2. Serge G. says:

    I always heard people say that lacing was a sign of good beer, but that wasnt always true none the less it does look great and lacing does happen more with better brews.

    That comparison was awesome Billy, you can really see how much Michelob is really not beer when put next to a good, healthy colored brew.

    Thanks again

  3. bierfesten says:

    Well put together piece. I had no idea what lacing was.. so i learned something today! Can you return the Michelob and say there was a fault with the beer?

  4. Did you wear a disguise when you purchased the Michelob Ultra?

  5. Billy Broas says:

    @Jorge Glad you liked it. Other comparisons would be cool, but I don’t want to put too much emphasis on lacing. In my mind it’s a factor, but not a hugely important one in an overall beer review. I have seen pretty good lacing on RIS like you noticed. I wonder if it’s because they are so viscous? And no, no Cosmo. They were fresh out.

    @Serge Thanks Serge. Your point about the Michelob overall appearance compared to the Orval actually stood out in my mind over the lacing. I knew I’d see some difference but that was surprising. I was just thinking “This one is beer, and this one isn’t.” But the fact that millions more people drink the Ultra kills me…

    @bierfesten. Happy to hear I could teach something new. I should try to return it. “There is no beer in this beer!”

    @Dale No but I did go outside of my neighborhood to not be recognized. I wonder if I’m the 1st person to ever buy a bottle of Michelob and Orval at the same time?

  6. nate says:

    Cool post billy…I would think that residual sugar content would add to lacing too but I’ve never done the research. You should do a follow up video of a Belgian brew vs. an American craft Belgian style brew.

  7. Billy Broas says:

    @nate Thanks. What you said about the sugar makes sense. I also wonder if since the hop oils are what mind the proteins, if highly hopped beers usually have more lacing. The Belgian vs. American idea is interesting. There’s so many comparisons, I should just line up 10 beers and knock them all out at once. Want to help me drink them lol?

  8. I heard of it referred to as Belgian lace. I thought that was a great video and the beers you chose were perfect for demonstrating the differences. I know lacing isn’t the end-all and be-all of beer, but I’m always impressed with a beer that leaves lacing from the top to the bottom of the glass!

  9. Billy Broas says:

    @Scott I’ve heard that term too. Is Belgian lace (the non-beer type) famous? I don’t have a clue, but if they do, then they have the lace market on lockdown. You’re right, a glass coated in lacing is a beautiful sight!

  10. Kevin says:

    Belgian beers tend to be carbonated at higher pressures than other styles, which probably leads to the bigger head on the Orval. But I don’t imagine that would have much to do with the lacing.

  11. Billy Broas says:

    @Kevin Hey Kevin, good point about the carbonation, although the Michelob was carbonated to high heaven too. It wasn’t obvious in the appearance but it was in the taste (curiosity sip before I dumped it lol). I think you’re right that that is not a major component of lacing. It’s more the hops, proteins, quality of ingredients, and that other special sauce they put in there. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Jason says:

    Great video. Its really important to me to learn as much about beer as i can. I never had a clue about lacing or rather its purpose, or use. Is there a reason that tripels i have tried seem to have very little in regards to lacing?

  13. Billy Broas says:

    @Jason I had no idea what it was for the longest time. I knew about the “wine legs” (which is similar) before I knew about lacing. I’m not sure why the tripel didn’t have much. From my experience, Belgians or Belgian styles tend to have more, but sometimes it’s hit or miss. The other thing I can’t stress enough is having a clean glass. I’ve even noticed my glasses washed in the dishwasher vs. by hand do much better with lacing. Guess I’m not a very thorough cleaner.

  14. Juan Taco says:

    Billy, Trippels ususally have a higher alcohol content, thus less lacing. (the alcohol thins the beers’ residual sugars) I just made a dubbel, and from what I’ve noticed, lacing has more to do with the beers’ final pH and carbonation than richness. I’ve brewed quite a few in the Belgian style and all have had amazing lacing and residual malt flavor. I’m sure that michelob has pH stabilizers in it, but force carbonated beer has a lowert pH due to the added carbonic acid in it as well as the fact that they put anti-foam agents in it to keep from losing much product when pouring pints or pitchers at the bar level. (I used to work for Budweiser as a line tech, and they do the same) Please do me a favor and ask your fans to stop bitching about America’s macrobrews. I personally don’t like to drink them often, but as a brewer, I know how hard it truly is to make two batches that turn out exactly the same, even though the ingredients are exactly the same. Atmospheric conditions and temp. can affect your mash, and these guys turn out millions of gallons a year that are consistent. Mich Ultra may be crap, but they make more of it in a week than Flying Dog makes in six months.

    • Juan Taco says:

      I can show you awesome lacing on a home-brewed lager, so it’s not the style. The higher temperature mash that breweries use get more sugars out and less protein. But that is on purpose. Pilsners and Lagers are supposed to be super clear and crisp.

  15. Juan Taco says:

    Also. Billy, if you’re ever up in the hills, up 285 way, on a saturday, you should stop by High Country Home Brew, in Pine Junction. We brew, all-grain, every Sat. and would love to have you come by and try a few of our creations. We made 45 gal for National Home Brew Day, last Sat. Take care.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Hey Juan, thanks for the offer. I’m doing the first brew on my Brutus 10 on Saturday but I’ll have to get up there some other time.

      Thanks for your insights on lacing. I think there are a lot more variables at play then we realize and this was certainly not a scientific experiment.

      As for your comment: “Please do me a favor and ask your fans to stop bitching about America‚Äôs macrobrews”. Haha don’t hold your breath on that one. But what they (and I) are really complaining about is not the lack of quality, but lack of flavor. You’re nuts if you don’t respect the skill involved in making American macros. It’s just too bad the product is bland.

      • Steve Krall says:

        EXACTLY BILLY! I don’t necessarily think all macros taste like Uknowwhat….but the blandness and lack of creativity is an issue for me. I realize not everyone wants a chocolate extra stout for an all-day session at the beach…but I don’t think adding a lemon/lime on top automatically makes it desirable either. And the attempts at “craft-style” leaves me believing they used food coloring and changed the label. I think Sam Adams did a nice job with their Light…it still actually tastes like beer to me. Keep up the great work here and beers to ya!

  16. Wes says:

    Today is my 13th wedding anniversary and the traditional gift for the 13th is “lace” so I just sent my wife a link to this video. Thanks for making it easy for me! Side note: I had to pick up some Ultra for my father-in-law a few weeks ago. I had to do the walk of shame all the way out the door, was just happy none of my friends saw me.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Congrats on the anniversary! I think you found the perfect gift. And don’t worry, we’ve all done the walk of shame.

  17. Steve Krall says:

    Cool. I once asked a brewer about the pattern of foam at the top. Some beers lost it very quickly! (guess what kind). Other beers kept a beautiful rich “clumpy” pattern on top. (guess what kind :). He said that was a trait….but he was a little busy to elaborate. I’ve actually been using this as part of my personal logs and reviews…and didn’t even know the trade name for it! So glad you have finally cleared this up for me thanks!

  18. Juan Taco says:

    Hey Billy!
    I just picked up “The Brew-Master’s Bible”, and it says that foam production and head retention are decreased by high adjunct/low gravity beers. That describes all macro-brews in this country. I read that and felt I should post again. Hope you’re enjoying your Brewtus!

  19. Mikery says:

    Shouldn’t you also have controlled for type of beer?? Like picked a good IPA vs. … I don’t know, a bad one?

    And even then, an AMERICAN IPA vs Another AMERICAN IPA as the differences in hop strains might cause different types of lacing.

  20. FedoraDave says:

    The only thing I’ve been disappointed with in my homebrews is the head retention and lacing. This goes for AG as well as extract brews. I try to use the freshest ingredients I can get; I typically buy my grains whole and crush and brew the very next day. Granted, that doesn’t insure that my LHBS has the freshest grains, but I don’t think that’s the issue. Any suggestions? My beer tastes great, but it just lacks that one aesthetic touch that makes an empty beer glass less depressing LOL.

  21. Maria says:

    Can you please tell me what legs are on a beer? I’ve heard people say “no legs” “minor legs” and “gorgeous legs.” What is it?

  22. PyroZuki says:

    I’ve also heard that improperly cleaned glasses (glasses with soap residue) will prevent a good lacin.
    Is this actually true? Can I roll into Outback and tell them my glass isn’t clean enough, simply based on the lacin? I only drink high quality, local micro brews that have a great lacin in my glasses and in the glasses at the breweries.


  23. sam Johnson says:

    Best lacing I’ve seen comes from Schlitz. Take that to mean what you will.

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