Beer head balance: why is it important and how to achieve it

Enjoying a good beer depends on many factors. The overall quality of the drink is, of course, the main driver. But there are other ones that play into it, like a proper serving technique to accomplish a balanced, stable beer head. Find out why foam on beer matters.

What exactly is beer head?

From bars to tasting rooms to beer festivals, a perfectly poured beer is crowned by a layer of foam, also known as a beer head. Put simply, it comes from the interaction between the carbon dioxide and the protein in the drink.

Why a beer head matters?

A beer head plays a bigger role in a satisfactory beer experience than just looks. It turns out foam is part of the authentic flavor of any beer.

Firstly, its bubbles pack active compounds that inform the true taste of the drink via its smell. This happens because our sense of smell is intimately woven with our sense of taste. Think of a beer’s aroma as a gateway to its complete range of flavor. For example, drinking an India Pale Ale with a head allows for noting undertones of citrus fruit and pine needles.

According to beer expert Max Bakker, foam “is where we are going to taste the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops, but really it is going to protect the integrity of that aroma that is underneath the foam through each sip” (Colorado Springs Gazette, 2018).

Moreover, foam contributes to delivering a specific dimension of flavor known as trigeminal. This is a taste effect physically perceived through the trigeminal nerve, as the cooling sensation of mint or the hot effect of chilies. Neither involves a real change in temperature, but the feeling of it.

Finally, a beer head also helps the drinker to better receive beer. Why? Well, since foam formation involves releasing carbon dioxide, it prevents the gas from accumulating in your stomach. It keeps you from feeling bloated when drinking beer.

Beer head: how to find the perfect balance when serving beer
Beer head: how to find the perfect balance when serving beer

How to achieve a beer head?

The trick is simple: pour your beer steadily and vigorously. These are the steps to create a balanced beer head: 

  • Tilt the glass at about 45 degrees.
  • Pour the beer with vigor down the side of the glass.
  • About mid-way, gradually straighten out the glass’ angle to reach 90 degrees. During this part of the process, it also helps to distance the glass from the bottle or faucet.

Additionally, serve beer in properly washed and rinsed glasses. Oily elements (food stains, lip products, and soap) affect the adequate formation of a beer head (See also: Beer festivals).

The traits of foamy beer

All beers have a natural beer head. A Guinness Stout usually has silky, thick foam. In contrast, a Chinese Harbin beer sports a thin, sudsy head. Chemically, good foam relies on variables such as:

  • Enough carbon dioxide or nitrogen.
  • Longer protein chains, for stability.
  • Alcohol level (above 7% of alcohol by volume tends to produce poorer foam).
  • Temperature (sufficiently warm to allow normal gas release).

References


Colorado Springs Gazette. (March 8, 208). Pikes Pub: ‘Foam’ enting a brewing unrest. Retrieved from https://powerlinks.news/article/649d8b/pikes-a-brewing-unrest

Gmoser, J. and Taylor, K. (August 12, 2017). A ‘beer sommelier’ explains how pouring a beer the wrong way can give you a stomach ache. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/youve-been-pouring-beer-wrong-whole-life-anheuser-busch-inbev-master-cicerone-right-way-2017-8

O’Rourke, T. Getting a head. The BREWER International, Volume 2 Issue 7 2002. Retrieved from http://www.ibdlearningzone.org.uk/article/show/pdf/497/

Tasteology. Trigeminal Sensations, Beyond the Five Basic Tastes. November 2016. Retrieved from https://newlywedsfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/USNovember2017Tasteology.pdf

Wolfe, A. (May 22, 2014). The Science Behind Beer Foam. CraftBeer.com Retrieved from https://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/the-science-behind-beer-foam