Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Enjoy a Proper Pour

Conventional wisdom has long told us that the "perfect pour" is accomplished by decanting the beer into a glass held at an angle, then straightening the glass to finish. This is done to create some head at the top, but still get the entire bottle poured in one motion. Occasionally I'll run into the waiter or waitress who will take this to the extreme and pour an entire beer extremely slowly down the side of a glass to avoid any head what-so-ever.

One problem I frequently encounter with this tilted glass method, especially with an unfamiliar beer, is I'll misjudge how much head the beer will produce and I'll undershoot, ending up with insufficient head at the end of the pour. I prefer to err on the side of too much head and pour harder and wait for the beer to settle before emptying the rest of the bottle. This way I get the full effect and can enjoy the beer in it's proper glory. Recently I've found that I'm not alone in this. (Not that I ever thought I was a trend setter.)

In a recent blog entry entitled "How to drink a bottle of beer", Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing noted:
Pour the beer straight down the middle of the glass, intentionally creating a thick collar of foam, degassing the beer a bit, and releasing the subtle aromatics. You will probably have to let the beer settle for a few minutes before you can fill the glass completely, but such patience will definitely be rewarded when one progresses to the next step – smelling.

Now, as you admire the wonderful frothy presentation you have created, pass your nose deliberately over the glass, and breathe in the delicate nuances of malt and hop the brewer has worked so diligently to provide – making note of the synergy and interplay between the elements.

The proper head on a beer is important to get the full aroma out of the brewer's creation. Our sense of taste is highly influenced by our sense of smell. The carbonation from a hard pour will release greater amounts of aroma particles to your nose.

An Associated Press piece published recently called "Use your head to serve beer" also touches on the less reserved pouring method:
Pour a little, wait a little.

Don't tilt the glass. The idea is to keep the head. Pour some beer into your glass, let the head foam up a bit and settle, then keep pouring. It might take two or three pours. The idea is to keep the head while releasing some of the carbonation that otherwise can leave you feeling bloated.

"By doing it that way, it knocks a little gas out of the beer. It makes it taste smoother, less harsh," [beer consultant Randy] Mosher said.

"It's nice to have a thick head on beer. It feels good on the lips. It's all about those details."

Both authors also cover serving temperature, a subject that I've touched on several times in the past, including here and here. Hugh Sisson notes:
... one must begin by removing the bottle of fine malt beverage from one’s refrigerator at least 20 minutes before consumption (this is not advisable with light beer!) This allows the beer to warm ever so slightly, permitting the delicate nuances of flavor to be released from their cold thermal captors and present themselves more effectively to your anxious palate.

And from the Associated Press piece:
Assuming you don't have multiple refrigerators or beer coolors, keep them in your regular refrigerator. Before drinking, let the beer sit on the counter for about 15 minutes. This should get it to a better temperature.

Mosher does urge leaving the frozen beer glasses for only the lightest American industrial beers, such as Bud, Miller or Coors.

"You never want to put a really good beer in a frozen glass. It's a waste of money," he says. "The aromas just can't get out. They get locked into the liquid. So at slightly warmer temperatures, they have the ability to jump out of the glass and get into your nose."

In both of these articles, the indication is that only "light" or "American industrial beers" should be served very cold. The unwritten conclusion here is that these beers have no flavor to be loss in the first place. I highly recommend reading both of these articles in their entirety as they both make excellent arguments for paying close attention to all aspects of enjoying a beer; temperature, the pour, the glassware, and of course the beer itself.

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