What is Beer Lacing?

by Karl | Updated: September 22, 2020

You might have heard the word “lacing” before. As scientific as it may sound, it’s not as complicated as hearing the word “Brettanomyces,” a type of beer yeast.

So what exactly is beer lacing? What causes it? And how does it affect your beer?

If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, we’ll answer all of them for you here in this article!

First things first..

Beer Foam: A Pre-requisite to Lacing

Beer foam and lacing are more related than you would think. In a sense, you have to understand the basics of foam if you want to understand what beer lacing is.

You already know beer foams are caused by the phenomenon nucleation, which is also known as the creation of bubbles. Nucleation is a process you also see in soda and champagne, although they don’t have a head formation similar to beer.

Why is that? It’s because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and special proteins, such as albumin. However, a particular protein to focus on is Lipid Transfer Protein 1 (LTP 1).

Like most proteins found in your beer head or foam, LTP 1 is highly hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t like water. During the brewing process, the protein, LTP 1, grabs onto a CO2 bubble and rises to the surface alongside the bubble. Once the protein and the CO2 bubbles rise to the surface, you’ll notice a coating on the bubbles formed by the protein and help maintain the beer foam or head.

The bitter iso-alpha acids found in beer hops also contribute to the hydrophobic behavior and produce a more stable, rigid, and clingy foam. This brings us to our definition of what lacing is.

What is Lacing?

When LTP 1 rises to the surface alongside the CO2 bubbles, it also interacts with other proteins and compounds. This interaction results in a dense texture and transitions into white lattice-like foam rings left at the sides of beer glasses when left alone.

You’ll see more lacing in a glass that was drunken slowly compared to a glass that was consumed faster. As a result, beer consumed gradually results in more lacing than beer consumed at a quicker pace.

What Factors Influence the Laces in Beer?

The type of beer and how clean your glass is are two significant factors that affect lacing. First of all, a well-rinsed glass will have more head retention. Grease, residual oils, soap, chapstick, detergent, and lipstick are all “enemies” of beer head. In short, these elements damper or kill head retention.

Even after rinsing your glass, it’s best to pour the beer right away instead of drying it off with a towel. This occurs because the lint from a towel can also damper head formation.

Other factors, such as hops, cereal sources, and mash schedules, also influence your head retention. Now that you know what influences the laces in your beer, the next time you rinse your glass, pour your beer in right away!

Why Do Some Beers Have More Foam?

The foam on most craft beers is impossible to brush aside, and yet, you might have wondered, “Why does your beer have more foam?”

Several factors cause some beers to have more foam. Here are a few worth mentioning:

  1. Alcohol content – Whether it’s craft beer or IPA, the foam won’t stick around if the alcohol content is too high or too low. Generally, alcohol in beer is actually a foam dampener. The golden alcohol percentage in your beer is 5%.
  2. Etched glassware – Certain glassware is etched at the bottom, which creates an additional nucleation site. The bubbles will then grab onto the etching and accumulate up to a certain buoyancy level. Once the bubbles are buoyant enough, they rise to the surface of your beer and, in effect, replenishes the head.
  3. Temperature – Temperature causes a process called disproportionation, which is when larger bubbles absorb smaller ones and produce a spotty, bladdery effect. At higher temperatures, you get poorer foam in your beer.
  4. Nitrogen – The dissolved gas in your beer is usually carbon dioxide; however, nitrogen can also be used for craft beer on some occasions. Nitrogen produces a creamy, rich mouthfeel to your beer and, most of all, a thick head. The reason for this is due to nitrogen’s solubility. Since it’s not very soluble, the small bubbles create a stable, creamy head in your beer.

As mentioned earlier, clean glassware and other factors such as lipstick or greasy & oily foods can also influence the laces and foam in your beer. This is primarily due to the waxes and various compounds found in grease, oily foods, lipstick, or chapstick that block protein interaction.

Since this interaction is vital to the denser texture and the textural transition that results in the laces in your beer, any protein blocker can dampen or kill the foam in your beer.

Conclusion

From this article, we learned there’s much more to foam than you would expect, along with the definition of lacing in your craft beer. Being fellow craft beer enthusiasts, we hope this article was able to help you learn more about laces and the science behind your foam.

Cheers!

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.