Saturday, 6 February 2010

Pouring lager isn't rocket science … is it?

Recently, in an expensive and fashionable haunt of professionals in Glasgow’s leafy West End, the barman proved unable to pour a pint of lager, resulting in a glass of beer with no head whatsoever.

Friends remarked: “Are you on the cider?”

The beer wasn’t flat in the sense of having no CO2 in it; it had just been siphoned slowly into the glass with the minimum of agitation. I had to obtain a second glass and create a head by dumping a portion of the beer into it and then back into the first glass again.

Is pouring lager properly really so difficult?


  1. The no-head thing. Czechs that go to English pubs are always outraged by it, specially when they order a Czech lager....

    That "all the way to the top" can be a bit silly.

  2. I know the British tendency is to pour cooking lager with no more than 4mm or 5mm of head, and they then do the same with proper lager, but this liquid was just absolutely still with not even a film of foam on top.

    I used to foolishly assume that how beer was poured into the glass didn't really matter. I don't know why, but I did. I know better now.

  3. Well, here in CZ pouring beer is considered almost an art form.

  4. Unfortunately it can be difficult to get staff to care about such things. It infuriates me when they seem to ignore the importance of dispense.

    However, there are technical things that compound the problem. CO2 is held in solution more easily the colder the beer is. The beer that is held in the pipes between the cooler and the font itself can be a little bit warmer and so produce a head as the beer is first poured. Great, sometimes a little bit too much head is produced, the reduction in pressure as the beer is suddenly released from its captive pipe causes the gas to come out of solution. If several pints are poured one after the other the inexperienced bar person carries on using the technique to pour. Because this beer is colder, perhaps too cold, the gas stays in solution and so there is no head.

    Experienced barkeepers will use the tap itself to force the beer through a tight opening, possibly also jerking the tap which causes hydraulic shock waves to run back up the pipe and so agitating the beer still sealed in the pipe. This produces a very satisfactory head.

    In my view swilling of the glass to produce head is the sign of a caring but inexperienced barkeeper. Swirling the glass might well produce head but introduces air into the beer as well and the resultant head is loose and will collapse quickly.

  5. Thanks for that Dave. I'd like to write a post about perfect lager pouring, but I'm a novice myself as to the actual technique. I just know what I think the result should be.

    The Germans have a thing called a "compensator tap" ( which I'm not sure should make a difference. On the face of it it looks like it's still down to pouring technique. A feature of this tap is a two-position switch which is something like a built-in sparkler.

  6. I'd always put this down to bar staff who had become wary of giving customers anything other than a pint full to the very brim (thanks, CAMRA!). A few weeks ago, though, I saw a bloke take a pint of Kronenbourg back to the bar because it was flat. The landlord apologised profusely; asked him who'd served the pint in question; told her off in front of everyone; then set about pulling a replacement pint himself. Only his was flat too. Heh heh.

  7. Any lager you can't balance a coin on the head of isn't worth drinking.

  8. Doesn't that only work with Soviet-era aluminium money?

  9. I did it with the old 50 halir coins and the 1kc coin in the Czech Republic. The 50h coin is very light, but the 1kc is heavier.