One thing I’ve never understood is why some people don’t like any head on their beer, or only just the tiniest sliver of it. Personally, I love beer foam. I love the taste of it, the look of it, and most of all, what it tells me about the beer I’m excited to taste.
It’s always a sign of a good beer, and a good beer system behind the bar, when you receive a pint that has a perfect inch to inch-a-half of foam and that foam is thick and resilient. While it’s rare that a beer will retain its head for the entirety of the drink, those that do also manage to retain their aroma and carbonation for longer.
So, what does it say if you don’t get a good beer head? There are a number of possibilities, but here are some of the more likely ones:
- The beer is flat. The keg didn’t get carbonated properly at the brewery, the bar isn’t supplying enough CO2, or the beer’s been on tap too long and has become oxidized.
- The glass or the lines are dirty. Nothing kills foam faster than grease or bacteria. If the bar isn’t cleaning their lines from the kegs to the taps regularly and/or if they are using soap and detergent to clean their glasses without removing all the residue, it can result in a headless beer with a lot of unpleasant off-flavors.
- The pour was lousy. Overfilling a glass can push out the foam, filling it to the brink with liquid instead. Also, a careless bartender may not realize that each beer comes out of the tap a little differently and that some require a more aggressive pour to release foam.
- It’s the glassware’s fault. While a regular 16 oz pint glass “works,” its design isn’t as good as the bubbled imperial pint glass at capturing foam and keeping it.
- The beer is supposed to be that way. This usually isn’t the case, but some breweries intentionally carbonate their beers less for some higher alcohol styles like barleywines because carbonation can conceal some flavor nuances.
Whatever you do, don’t end up with a headless beer. It’s not only an indication that your beer is going to go flat pretty soon (if it isn’t already); it probably means there are a number of other things wrong with it, too.