Why do you put salt in beer? (Answered!)

Have you ever been out to a bar and someone sits down, orders, and then grabs the salt and sprinkles it in the beer? 

I didn’t have the courage to ask them why do you put salt in beer, who knows maybe they are one of those people that puts salt on everything.

I suppose a margarita has a salted rim, and sometimes a bloody mary will have celery salt around the rim.  So why not beer, it must do something?

Why do people put salt in beer?

Salting your beer dates back to the end of the prohibition era, circa 1933.  America was going through the great depression and times were tough, to say the least, brewers had to find cheaper ways to brew. 

They started adding rice and corn as a way to cut costs and maximize the flavor of their beer.  But that didn’t really work, people would try and make it taste better by adding, fruit like lemons or limes.

Others started to put salt in their beer.  Just like eating a meal, you put salt on to bring out flavors, and such was the same for beer.  It is said that salting your beer will bring out the flavors of the hops and malts.

I wouldn’t ever think about putting salt in craft beer because those beers are already full-flavored and the brewing is much more of a process than let’s say a Miller Lite.

If I’m sharing a keg of said Miller at a wedding, I will think about salting a beer or two.

Other theories

There is more than one way to explain this phenomenon, and I have a few theories as to why others enjoy salty beer.

  • Muscle Cramps – Hard working guys doing physical labor, like building railroads, or smashing boulders by hand would sweat a lot and would get dehydrated.  Dehydration leads to muscle cramps, so the concept was to salt your beer which would retain the water and also make you thirstier.
  • Pee less – Older men would claim that salt in beer makes you urinate less frequently.  Hey, they may be onto something!  I usually won’t drink beer at a concert or event because I hate getting up to go pee, were these older guys onto something?  I may need to try out this theory.
  • Less Bloating – Salt will make the carbonation go down, giving it fewer bubbles.  And that would mean less air in the belly.  I tested this with two beers side by side and you could tell that the carbonation/bubbles had gone down.  I don’t know about the bloat, this would need furthers science experimentation.
  • The bitter beer flavor is gone – Adding salt in your beer reduces the bitterness and the sharpness because of carbonation and in return brings out the other flavors or the malts and hops.  Maybe these older school guys don’t like the newer hopper beers and that is why you will see them salting.
  • Tradition – Maybe it’s just a family tradition, grandpa used to do it, and then dad and so on.

There are many reasons why people do this, whether it’s right or wrong the person drinking it probably loves it and that is ok.

Why do you put salt on a napkin?

There is another reason why we salt our beverages, that is because the napkins or coaster likes to stick to the bottom of your beer glass.  It’s annoying and can be messy.

You might see some people salting their coaster.  I do it because it works.  Put a little salt on the coaster where the glass will be and this will keep it from sticking.  Salt helps keep the liquid from condensation off the glass.

What does putting salt in your beer do?

Adding salt to beer can change the flavor dramatically.

The salty taste will usually be amplified in the finished beer, but the salt may also influence some of the cascading flavors that typically come up during tasting.

Certain types of hops are thought to benefit from pairing with more salinity while others may get overwhelmed by it.

Taste-wise, mild club sodas have been described as being interchangeable with certain styles of lager or pilsner thanks to similarities in levels of residual sugars and hop character between them.

A little extra salt is only there to enhance the flavor and slow down the bubbles. 

I love this tradition, but I only think I would do it if I’m in a dive bar watching baseball and drinking nickel tap beers at 2 in the afternoon.  There are so many great beers out there, you should be able to find one that fits your taste profile.

If not, keep experimenting, there are many ways to make beer taste better, and yes salt is one of them.