How much head should your beer have?
As a beer lover you’ll appreciate that pouring the perfect beer is an art in itself and although you want some beer foam on the top of your pint it’s unlikely you want a whole glass full! Yep, we’ve all been there! That’s why we’re here to give you the low-down about why beer foam exists, whether it matters and how to achieve a gold star when it comes to pouring the perfect pint.
Why does a beer have a foam head?
Most of us know that our beer should have some sort of head, but not many of us know why, or indeed, where it comes from. In truth, the creation of beer foam is actually pretty scientific:
- It begins with a process called nucleation - the technical term for the process of forming bubbles. These bubbles consist of proteins that are naturally found in barley, hops and wheat, which of course are the primary ingredients in the brewing process.
- This type of protein is highly hydrophobic (basically it doesn’t like water very much!) and repels the liquid.
- It does this by grabbing onto the naturally occurring CO2 (formed from the fermenting yeast) by making a coating around the gas bubbles.
- Ultimately this creates a substance known as ‘albumin’ (or beer foam to those of us that aren’t chemists) that is dense, stable and clings to the glass to create the beer head.
Fun Fact: Although most of us call it ‘beer head’, or ‘beer foam’ the real term is actually the “Collar” of the beer
Does the amount of head on a beer matter?
Yes! If you think your beer tastes different when it’s topped off with a thick layer of foam, then you’re right. The surface-active compounds trapped within beer foam are largely responsible for your beer's aroma. Since our sense of taste and smell are so closely interwoven, when these compounds are released, you experience the full-flavour profile of the beer you are consuming.
The creamy, fluffy feel of beer foam can also dramatically alter the perceived taste of any given beer by creating a smooth sensation on your palette. Since the head acts a bit like a lid, the carbon dioxide is prevented from leaving your beer quickly. Without a foam head, the refreshing tingling would disappear almost instantly.
Fun Fact: Scientists discovered that humans can distinguish more than 1 trillion scents so the distinct aroma produced by different beer foams really does make a difference to what you smell and therefore taste.
Different types of beer have different amounts of head
OK, so if beer foam is naturally occurring, why do different beers have different amounts of head? Well, it comes down to the brewing process, beer cultures and personal preference.
For example, if you’re enjoying a pint in Germany, you’re likely to find it comes with a thick layer of foam - up to 2 inches (or 5cm) in fact and in Belgium a head of thick foam signifies the best beer. Here in the UK? We tend to think we are being short changed if we’re served a pint with a vast amount of foam. There’s no right or wrong, it’s really down to personal preference.
There’s also some natural variation that you can expect from different styles:
- Pilsners / Lagers: a thick 2-3cm (approx. 1 inch) head is normal and preferred
- IPAs / Pale Ale: should easily produce at least 1 inch of beer foam
- Bitters / Stouts / Porter: low carbonation so doesn’t tend to have a significant head - usually around 0.5 inch or 1cm, but some beer foam should ideally remain throughout drinking
Fun Fact: In the Czech Republic don’t be surprised if you’re served a glass almost entirely full of foam when you order a local beer, it's even got its own name - mlíko!
How to pour the perfect pint
We can all picture the “perfect pint”. An ice cool beer with a great layer of beer foam. But despite knowing what you’re aiming for when it comes to pouring your pint, it’s not unusual to end up with something that looks rather different! So we’re here to help with our pint pouring tips.
1. The beer glass
OK, so it might seem obvious but drinking your pint from a glass is a pretty important first step. Not just any glass either. There are specific beer glasses that are optimised for the perfect pint. For example, a narrow lager glass will keep a higher foam head for longer than a shorter goblet shaped glass. For the best results get your hands on some beer glasses that have an imprint in the bottom - often in the form of the brewer’s logo. This rough section of the glass is specifically designed to encourage the carbon dioxide bubbles upwards thus creating a luscious foam head.
2. Super clean glassware
You should also check that your beer glass is super clean because any glass containing oils, dirt or residue is going to inhibit the creation of a foamy head. The CO2 bubbles latch on to these impurities and can introduce unintended flavours into your beer. A common sign that the glass is dirty are the bubbles sticking to the side of your glass - although a little lacing is normal. As a side note, it’s also pretty gross to be drinking out of a dirty glass!
3. Pour at an angle
Begin by tilting your pint glass at a 45° angle and pour your beer targeting the middle slope of the glass with some gusto. At the halfway point, change the position of your glass to a 90° upright position and continue pouring the rest of your beer straight into the middle of the glass. You may also want to gradually add distance between the bottle and glass as you pour to achieve a good head. For most beers you’re aiming for a 2cm head or approximately the width of your thumb.
Fun Fact: There are over 20 different types of beer glasses for many different types of beer. We know just how important the beer glass is, that’s why you’ll find a Bier Company premium beer glass included in most of our craft beer gift boxes.
What can impact beer foam?
In reality there are many reasons why your beer may have more or less foam than you may like, but here are a few common reasons:
- Cleaning: Avoid the dishwasher if possible and opt for handwashing and rinsing. Dishwashers are prone to leaving a detergent film which will kill any chances of you achieving the perfect beer head.
- Fatty foods: Fat is also a killer of beer foam. If you’ve been eating crisps, chips, cheese, sausages etc. your lips will be covered in oil and that will reduce the stability of the beer foam.
- Lipstick: The waxy substance found in lipsticks or lip salves also interacts with the protein in beer foam and can quickly cause it to dissolve away.
- Alcohol: The higher the alcohol content the less likely you are to get a large foamy head on your beer. Why? Well ethanol (alcohol) actually acts as a foam deterrent so the amount of foam decreases as the alcohol content increases.
- Temperature: If your beer has been stored somewhere too warm the yeast in the beer can get over zealous and start to create foam faster than it’s meant to. This means that when you come to serve it up, you’ll have pre-foamed flat beer.
Now you know how much head your beer should have and how to pour the perfect pint, all that’s left to do is to get your hands on some delicious Bier Company craft beer, sit back, relax and enjoy.