Guide: Pouring the Best Beer

Any beer snob will tell you that having a little head and good head retention is important to having the perfect beer.  We at Taihei don’t care too much about being picky but there is a proper way to pour a beer so that you can enjoy it better than you can imagine.  There is no wrong way to enjoy a beer if you love it the way you are doing it, so don’t change if you are happy.  If you want to learn a few tips on what you can do to help enhance the flavours, this guide will help you.

How much head?

The old joke goes, every guy likes head but not on their beer.  This is not necessarily true as a little head goes a long way to making the beer taste better.  For a beer snob you will be particular about how much head you have for different styles of beer.  The traditional rule for a Belgian beer is the two fingers rule.  The head should be about the width of 2 of your fingers.  For traditional German and Japanese beers the head tends to be much bigger than any American would stand for.  If you go to any izakaya in Japan, they often have about 3cm of head, and some automatic beer servers are actually automated to give the perfect amount of head needed.

Why is head important?  The main reason is to prevent oxygen from entering the beer.  The second oxygen touches beer it starts to change the way the beer tastes.  Head also helps with the aroma.  You can often smell the hops and malts better through the head as it releases the scents slowly.

How to pour?

Traditionally most people try to get as little head out of the beer as possible and will gingerly pour the beer slowly onto the side of the glass.  Basically holding the glass at a 45 degree angle is generally perfect.  While this is fine in some cases, many beers are designed to be poured straight in.  If you take the Suntory’s brewery tour in the Musashino area of Tokyo, they have a beer pouring demonstration with a can of Suntory’s Premium Malts.  They pour directly into the bottom and allow a lot of head to build up.  They let it settle to the best height before pouring it slowly at a 45 degree angle to the brim.

If you are drinking a Guinness, you can usually pour it directly into the bottom of the Guinness glass and watch everything cascade as it settles.  It is fun to watch and only possible with nitro beers.  In generally there really is no “wrong” way to pour a beer unless you spill it.

The purpose of pouring vigorously into the glass is to release the carbon dioxide. Depending on the beer, pouring and releasing the CO2 will help to make the beer lighter so that you can actually drink more.  If you don’t like feeling bloated after drinking one beer, try removing some of the built up CO2 with a vigorous pour at first.

If you want a good show, and you have a good glass, it isn’t difficult to pour a beer with just enough head and then pour more beer so that the head goes over the top of the glass.  It is good showmanship but doesn’t really do much for the beer itself.  It makes for a good party trick.

How full should the glass be?

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Depending on the type of glass you are using, this will all depend.  Using a standard pint glass or even a pilsner style glass you can fill them up to the brim.  Spiegelau, an Austrian glass maker that is a subsidiary of Ridel, makes a great set of craft beer glasses.  Generally speaking you should never fill these to the brim as they were not designed to be used this way.  They are generally designed to be enjoyed with a full 330mL bottle of beer poured into it.  You generally fill it to the widest portion of the glass, similar to pouring a glass of wine.  Any more and you lose a lot of the aromas.  The same goes for a wine glass or a traditional Belgian tulip, but the Belgian tulip can also be filled to about two fingers below the brim.

What is that sludge at the bottom of the bottle?

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Before opening any bottle of craft beer, you should look at the bottom of the bottle first.  It is not uncommon to see a layer of sediment at the bottom of every bottle.  This is mostly made of yeast as well as some hops and other particles that weren’t removed during the bottling process.  Bottle conditioned beers are becoming popular due to craft beer but it is also very popular in Japan’s craft beer industry.   Bottle conditioned means the brewery adds a little sugar or wort into the bottle and the remaining yeast is left to add a light amount of fermentation.  Since the bottle is sealed the CO2 is trapped and forced into the liquid.

The sludge at the bottom of the bottle will not harm you but it will change the way the beer tastes.  It is a personal preference whether you want to drink it or not.  If you want to taste the beer the way the brewer intended, it is generally accepted that you drink the beer without the sediment.  When you pour the beer you need to be soft and not allow big bubbles of air to enter the bottle.  Pour it gently and stop before you get to the end.  Keep an eye on it and as the end of the bottle nears, quickly stop pouring.

For some, the sediment at the bottom is delicious and adds a different quality to the beer.  It will make the beer cloudy but that is not a problem.  When you get to the end of the bottle, leave a little beer and swirl it around to release the sediment.  Depending on your preferences, you can pour this into a full glass, half empty glass, or into an empty glass.  It all depends on how much sediment is remaining.  A good general rule of thumb is to pour the remaining sediment into the last two sips of beer, but feel free to go crazy with whatever you prefer.

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