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Poets, sages and thinkers of great magnitude have grappled for centuries with the fundamental mysteries standing in the way of human progress--stuff like hunger, indigenous populations, the environment, that sort of thing.

None of them, however, dared tackle the most perplexing question of all: Is there a correct way to pour beer?

Even the best minds fear this topic. Will and Ariel Durant cowered from beer presentation in their multivolume history of civilization. Jesus sidestepped the issue by turning water into wine rather than beer. In the climactic pages of The Great Gatsby, even F. Scott Fitzgerald lacks the courage to describe a good pour, instead placing characters Tom and Daisy at a table where the beer has already been dumped into mugs.

Breweries can't reach a consensus, either. The German producer Spaten suggests tilting the glass and allowing the head to settle. Guinness requires a two-stage pour lasting a couple of minutes. The folks at Molson recommend tilting the glass at first, then deftly switching to an upright position midpour. Huber, which brews up urine-colored liquid for underage Midwesterners, claims that it doesn't really matter. And local bartenders echo the confusion, saying things like "it depends on the beer" (Scott McCullough at Republic), "it depends on what kind of beer it is" (Bill Foster of The Quarter) and "it depends on whether you order from the tap or bottle" (Kenny Daniel at Primo's).

"I've heard two things," adds Chris Gilliam of Mike's Treehouse. "Brewmasters say to pour it hard to release the full flavor of a beer. But no one likes head on a beer; they think they're being cheated."

Clearly this is a vexing question, full of potential fraud and violence. Ever see a British soccer crowd after a few too many pints, or a drunken mob celebrating after the Super Bowl? No wonder guys like Kant and Dr. Phil avoided the question. They perhaps realized that any failure to find an answer pleasing to all beer drinkers likely would end in bloody mayhem.

"Those Irish will get you if you don't pour a stout the right way," warns Garret Bratt, bartender at Cuba Libre.

Perhaps if the Fighting Irish lowered their standards...

With so much at stake, the Burning Question crew, with great disregard for our personal safety, decided to forgo this week's question. Rewrite it, actually.

How someone pours a beer is an issue only if it affects enjoyment, or so we reasoned. We informed our editor of this change from one of the "excuse booths" at The Men's Club. These handy little rooms allow patrons to select non-strip club-related background noise while calling home or office. The sound of an airport terminal, along with our tale of a budget-busting trip to Ireland for further research, convinced our editor that...um...of course, any seasoned newspaper professional editing this story knows there's no such thing as an excuse booth.

So, does it make a difference?

"You want to strive for that 1-inch head," claims Phil Natale of Sense. "The head keeps the beer cold and keeps it from going flat, traps the flavor and carbonation." Bartenders cascade beer down the side of the glass, he adds, in order to regulate the size of the head.

Eddie Germann, bartender at The Men's Club, which we've never actually visited but only heard about from a friend of a friend, contends that a proper pour makes all the difference, but only if the patron truly cares about the subtleties of a brew. "It matters to connoisseurs," he says. "A good head releases some of the aroma. It's like opening a bottle of wine and letting it breathe.

"But if it's just a Bud Light..."

In order to settle the matter, the Burning Question crew stumbled into The Londoner. Bartender Ian Green set up, side by side, ales poured in the manner preferred by beer snobs and in the conventional fashion.

The test proved somewhat inconclusive. Although an "incorrect" pour disturbed the consistency of the beer's head and upset the texture of the first sip or two, we noticed no discernible difference in taste. Nor could we measure aroma changes, unfortunately, because one crew member overdosed on cologne, convinced for some reason that we planned to stop by some club we'd heard about.

"Even though it tastes the same, psychologically it doesn't," Green explains. "It's like Mom's cooking."

Bartenders refer to the fundamentals of a good pour, with consideration for waste, efficiency and appearance. "Otherwise," Bratt points out, "I don't know of any wrong way to pour beer."

It's a look, a personal preference, tradition--such as the two-part Guinness pour or the tricky gyrations for wheat beer. Clean glassware and proper temperature matter more.

That's pretty much all we were able to conclude. So we'll just stick with what Alun, a guy drinking hard at Sense, told us when we prodded him regarding the age-old question of pouring beer:

"It depends if you're drunk or not. If I'm shitfaced, I couldn't care less if they poured the beer all over me."


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