Pouring beer, an art or a Science?

How much foam does a glass of beer need? Does any type of beer require a different technique?

Is there a beer-pouring technique at all?

Pouring beer, art or science?

Oh, how wonderful it would be if questions like that posed in the title could be answered! Alas, it is not to be. Even so simple an act as pouring a glass of beer is surrounded with controversy. There are as many opinions on the subject as there are bartenders.

Following is one straightforward, no-nonsense approach.

Start with glasses that are clean and free of dust and cotton or paper particles. Those particles can be introduced during drying. It's better to air dry. Oils and dirt can interfere with the way the head forms and subtly alter flavors.

The glass is never half-empty, there are no pessimists among beer pouring specialists!

Hold the glass at a 45° angle, then pour slowly, aiming for the middle of the side of the glass. When the glass is half-full, tip the glass upright and continue to pour into the middle.

The result should be about an inch to an inch and a half -3 centimeters- of foam.

But this straightforward approach needs to be supplemented and adjusted for specialty brews and circumstances.

Ales

Gentle pouring down the side of the tilted glass helps keep the foam down to moderate height. Steepen the angle or pour from a higher distance for thicker foam.

Too much creaminess erases the delightful zing of a bitter. Too much agitation will cause hop oils to move from the body of the beer into the head.

Adjust technique to taste.

Stouts

Stouts are darker, thicker ales with full-bodied flavor, lots of hops and great mouthfeel. Pouring slowly will allow the best size head to develop.

Pour, pause and pour some more. Creating a denser, creamier head will bring out the dark flavor of a stout.

Beware the widget containing bottle. 'Widgets' are nitrogen capsules that float near the cap, releasing nitrogen through a small hole when the bottle is opened. Introduction of nitrogen at the last moment is a cheesy trick.

Pilsners

Usually these lagers are light and golden colored. Work with them, not against them, by encouraging a healthy head. A vigorous pour should result in the foam curling just above the rim.

This maximizes the light, hoppy aroma and releases dissolved carbon dioxide to produce good carbonation. Pilsners should be foamy and bubbly, not flat.

Wheat Beer

Yeasty and full-flavored, with high carbonation, Weizenbier does best with a gentle pour. The name comes from the yeast used, not the malt grain. Barley is used for almost all beer.

For those who want the maximum this beer offers, pour some of the settled yeast out of the bottle into the glass. To accomplish that, leave a small layer of liquid in the bottle and swirl, then pour.

One technique commonly employed in Belgium entails wetting the glass prior to pouring, in order to control the head. Others deride this as diluting the flavor with additional moisture. See, nothing about pouring escapes controversy!

Bottle Conditioned

Bottle conditioned beers may have a substantial amount of yeast left at the end of the brewing process. For those who prefer their beer a little less like bread, pour carefully or filter.

For those who want to get their vitamin supplements from beer - and who wouldn't! - add the yeast-filled sediment to taste and enjoy your B-complex the old-fashioned way.

Experiment!