A Head Above the Rest

  • September 17th, 2019
  • By Jeremy Moore

There is something magical about pouring a beer into a clean glass. The initial crack of the can, the pop of the bottle cap, or perhaps the opening of a draught faucet. From the moment the beer hits your glass, the CO2 escapes solution, aromas begin to fill your nostrils with juicy hops or bready malt, and your senses come to life with anticipation. That escaping CO2 plays a pivotal role in your beer drinking experience.

CO2 is naturally infused into the beer during fermentation. As the yeast consumes the sugars from the malt and other potential adjunct additions, it produces alcohol and CO2. Brewers will often top up the CO volume right before packaging to their desired levels via forced carbonation. This will give the beer the intended mouthfeel and head retention.

Visually, a beer with a proper foam cap is something to behold. Depending on the style of beer and where you are drinking it, the size of that foam cap may vary. In much of Europe, particularly in Belgium and The Netherlands where a deep reverence for beer exists, beers can be served with up to 50% head. The idea being that so much of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our olfactory sense and a proper foam cap helps to release aromatics from the beer. In North America, we seem to expect a little more bang for our buck and expect a touch more beer in our glass, with the head generally being 2-3cm thick.

Many factors can affect the pour on a beer, but perhaps the most important is the glass into which it is being poured. Dirt or residue left behind can create a surface that CO2 can cling to that will affect the taste and the head. Sanitizer left behind from incorrectly washed or dried glassware can cause a beer to appear flat and have no head. Home dishwashers, iodophors and oil-based detergents are particularly notorious for causing beer to appear flat. With draught beer, the incorrect gas blend or pressure will also affect the head retention. Considering that beer is the every-person’s drink, it can be quite the fickle beverage!

When pouring your beer into a glass, hold the glass at a 45° angle to the can, bottle or faucet. Pour on a 45 until approximately half full and begin to straighten up your glass while pouring the remainder. Pouring in this manner will allow for the ideal 2-3cm of foam. Ensuring your beer is poured into a clean glass and has the intended foam cap is paramount for your consumption experience.

Whether you are drinking a deep, dark nitro stout or a fruit-infused IPA, the complex aromatics and visual stimulation that you will experience from a full head on your beer is second to none.