Saturday, 14 May 2011

Pouring lager

Regular readers know that I love proper lager, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I wholeheartedly welcome the increasing availability of decent British-made lager and quality imported brews.

But for God’s sake can people learn to pour it properly?

Time and again I see lager sloshed into brim-measure glasses with a bare few millimetres of unappetising, soapy foam that soon disappears.

One time I even watched dumbfounded as a barman poured a pint of a premium-priced German beer so gently down the side of a glass that it created no head whatsoever. I don’t understand how that's even possible, but he managed it somehow and the resulting pint resembled Strongbow in appearance. No head at all, but full of fizz.

Tandleman was pondering recently why the mostly-kegged lager in Germany doesn't seem as fizzy as it often is here.

What actually happens in the glass when a beer is poured? Watch this to see.

In this cheesy 1980s Bitburger ad, too, you can see the beer hitting the glass at some pressure:

It is pretty obvious that a fair bit of the CO2 in the beer is being knocked out and forming the big airy head. It's a crucial factor. You need to allow a head to form. If you don’t, the excess CO2 stays in the beer, producing endless bubbles surging energetically towards the surface.

So I'm not criticising bar staff alone. Chiefly to blame are cheapskate publicans who refuse to use lined glasses, which are absolutely necessary to leave space for a decent head.

If you won't accept that you need to use lined glasses, you shouldn't be selling lager. End of.

Just as guilty are pig-headed customers who bitch and moan if their glass is not filled to the brim with liquid (on occasion even when the glass is lined and they've actually already got more beer than they've paid for).

This rather didactic training video explains in tedious detail the basics, such as how to use a branded glass that matches the beer — I dream of the day, perhaps my great-grandchildren may experience it, when bars in this country will master this extremely difficult task.

The interesting bit starts at 4:25 (If you like, you can watch the first bit and learn how to hook up a keg). We see how the beer is poured and allowed to foam up to the top of the glass. Then it is allowed to settle. The foam becomes thicker and denser, then the glass is topped up with fresh beer. In this way you pour a beer that has a beautiful long-lasting head, and not too much fizz in the body.

A similar technique in this Austrian video:

Not practical in a busy British pub, you say? Don't sell the beer, then. Bars who are charging a premium price for this stuff should be able to afford to invest a little time and training in serving it properly.


  1. I remember a chat I had once with an English Brew Master at a pub in Prague. He looked at a perfectly poured half litre of Budvar Ležák (bright white, compact head and not a single bubble in sight) and he said something like "this is a proper pint of lager, but in England they would send it back, not fizzy enough". Sad...

  2. Well said that man! Beer in general with no head is as appetising as a pint of cod liver oil, but lager with no head is a downright abomination. People over here seem to think all beer should have a bare millimetre of scum on the top of their pint, even brewpubs are guilty, and so to get a decently poured pint is a challenge.

    I remember being told in Prague that a beer should take 7 minutes to pour and be able to support a very small coin on the head. If you are going to do something, do it right.

  3. NEVER and I repeat NEVER would you be served a pint of ANYTHING in the US with any discernible head. American children are taught at a very young age that a nice head of foam on beer is bad. They learn from there fathers that beer in a can should have foam (unless it's shaken and punched to "shotgun*) even after hours of drinking at the neighborhood picnic. In later their later years, at college, they are educated by their older comrades, to tilt their translucent ,plastic cups and slowly trickle the yellow liquid toward the bottom of the vessel, so as to not loose any of the "good stuff."** Finally, every American, knows that there can be nothing better than a tall 20 ounce pint of a true lager, like Coors light, accompanying their pizza shooters, shrimp poppers or extreme fajitas [1].

    * Shotgunning is a means of consuming a canned beverage, particularly beer, very quickly by punching a hole in the side of the can. With this method, it is possible to easily drink a canned beverage in under 10 seconds.

    ** Kegstands withstanding. Some loss of the "good stuff" is acceptable when two friends suspend another over the keg and the beer is consumed, directly from the tap, as quickly as possible.


  4. Thanks for bringing this up. If you're going to drink lager, do it the right way. When it's served in the right way, any good quality lager can stand its ground againt ales, no matter what some beer snobs claim. Having been to Germany and the Czech Republic many times over the last years, I can attest to this. Nothing beats a properly served glass of 'Helles' on a hot summer day in Munich.