The Unsung Hero of Beer
In my early days of drinking beer I, like most people believed that if I ordered or poured a beer I would want it to have as little foam as possible. I am here today to tell you why that is wrong.
Firstly, a beer with a 1-inch collar of foam around the top just looks appealing. You should always aim for about an inch of foamy head on your beer. If you are pouring yourself a Belgian style beer or German Weissbier, expect a little more, as these beers are traditionally brewed with more wheat than most. This results in excess protein in the beer. Why does that create more foam? Well that off-white foam you see topping your glass is actually thousands of little protein nets called “colloids” trapping Carbon Dioxide, as well as volatile hop and malt aromas from your beer. Without it the aroma would escape your beer quickly and will be way less noticeable.
What Foam does for You
Having a solid head of foam on your beer ensures your aroma sticks around in your beer. As all those little bubbles pop they propel those beautiful volatile aromas up and out of the glass and into your nose! Also when foam reaches the back of your throat and bubbles pop, aromas can go into your nasal passage from the back entrance. This is called retronasal olfaction and is the major player that links aroma and taste together to create what we call flavour. Aroma is actually the key contributor to flavour as there are only five tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami) as well as two emerging ones scientists are trying to prove right now, fat and carbonic bite! Beer Judges will simulate retronasal olfaction by blowing out of their nose after swallowing their sample beer.
Carbonation is also a key quality in beer that makes it perfect for pairing with food. The foam scrubs your palate of excess food and flavour, and readies you for each bite. It also acts as a cutting agent for fatty foods in the same regard. Carbonation is in every beer at varying degrees. To have that as a consistent trait makes beer, in my opinion, a superior friend to food than wine amongst a host of other reasons.
Pouring Beer Effectively
So now that we have gone over why you want at least an inch of head on your beer, I should explain how to ensure you always get it.
Step 1: Wet glass with a splash of cold water. This is to get any dust, dirt or detergent/sanitizer out of the glass that may of been left behind during cleaning. It also doubles as a way to allow the beer to slip into the glass smoothly.
Step 2: Hold glass at a 45° angle and start to pour down the inside of the glass.
Step 3: As you get to about half way up the glass you want to straighten out the glass to start pouring more vigourously. This should create the ideal amount of head.
Style Differences in Carbonation
It is important to note that each beer style is unique and that the carbonation level that works for one beer, may not work for another. Carbonation levels in beer are measured quantitatively in Volumes of CO2. These can range anywhere from 1.0 volumes of CO2 for low carbonation beers like British Cask Ale to 3-4.0+ volumes for some Belgian ales.
Carbonation really impacts the mouthfeel of a beer. The qualitative measurements of carbonation can range from soft to prickly to even a carbonic bite. The softer the carbonation the more smooth and full-bodied the beer may feel on your tongue. Soft carbonation beautifully compliments beers with a rich malt character. High carbonation makes beers seem crisper and lighter in body. They can be described as prickly as the many fine bubbles prick your tongue as they burst in your mouth. High carbonation is essential for lagers as a large part of the appeal of lagers is their crispness and quick finish.
Next time you pour yourself a beer, create and admire the head of your beer. Observe how all the tiny bubbles are dissolving and releasing beautiful aromas up to you. Think about how it is feeling on your palate, whether it is soft and creamy or crisp and biting. Carbonation is truly the unsung hero of beer and does a lot to make every pint as tasty as possible for us!
Thanks for reading and if you learned something new please share this with a friend! Also if you want me to touch on a specific topic, leave a comment on my most recent Instagram post and I will try my best to make it happen!