Does Size Matter?

Now that I have your attention you will be disappointed to learn that this a post about head…. you know the head on your pint of beer…what did you think I meant?

I was reading the Summer edition (issue 16) of  CAMRA’s BEER magazine, and not for the first time there was a short piece on the importance of having a head on your beer, this time by Paul Hegarty (author and public affairs consultant who promotes the responsible enjoyment of beer).

Time and again consumer research shows that people prefer a beer with a head.

Wait, it’s not that simple.  People want a head on their beer but not too big!

That doesn’t mean that they [the people] want to be fobbed off with a glass of foam when they are paying for beer.

So what do the people want Paul?

[The people want]… just a centimetre of foam at the top of the glass that remains as the beer is drunk.

I’m not poking holes in Paul’s article, as he goes on to make several good points about how the science of what makes a head on a beer and how breweries can factor head formation and retention into their beer recipes.  He also makes the most important point of them all, in that the beer can be brewed to perfection, but can be let down at the last moment by the publican using a dirty glass or indeed by the customer who may have been a little over zealous with their lipstick application (come on guys, natural is beautiful).  I get Paul’s argument; ‘don’t always assume the brewer is to blame for a foamically challenged beer’.

What I wanted to add to this is, ‘does a head on a beer really matter to everyone?’ and should it really be an expected indicator of quality?  I happened to be sat in the pub while reading this article.  During my stay I enjoyed half pints of Camden Pale Ale (keg) and Dark Star’s American Pale and Hophead (cask).  All three had roughly a centimetre or two of head and all three were roughly 4.5%.  I then had a 6.9% Mikkeller IPA (bottle) and a half of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild at 6% (cask).  The bottle of IPA had a 4-5 centimetre head and the Mild was bald.  I enjoyed all of the beers.

As the beer drinker grows ever more discerning, the importance of crystal clear beer and one centimetre head retention becomes less relevant and the quality judged on flavour.  However, the sad fact is that while research shows that consumers prefer a beer with a head and the the large pub chains respond to this with Area Quality Managers guarding the perimeter of their bars, then how will the consumer ever learn to appreciate that a layer of ‘foam’, whatever the depth, does not guarantee you a tasty pint of beer?


5 thoughts on “Does Size Matter?

  1. I’d say that personally as long as there’s some head on top, that’ll do for me. A totally flat pint arriving on the bar can be an early indication that something’s not right with it (unless it’s a monster barley wine, as you hinted at). Having said all that, being a true son of the North, I prefer a sparkled pint and the continual gift of foam it dispenceth. But not to the extent that it would spoil my drinking pleasure – as long as the 95% liquid tastes good, that’s the main thing. Or is it supposed to be 100% liquid?…I forget…. 😉

    • I agree Rich, I prefer my beer to have some head on it (when appropriate for the style i.e. a glass of Garre without a head would be rubbish), but I don’t like the culture of not serving or returning a ‘session’ beer if it doesn’t have a head. Bottled beer is a whole other discussion!

  2. I guess what we see affects our taste to a certain degree. For me, taste is paramount then aesthetics come much later. If clarity and head is an indicator of good beer, then stella miller bud fosters shld be the best beers around.

    Carbonation and serving temperature is more important to me when I’m having a drink at the pub.

    • Good point, we can’t get away from that, but shouldn’t result in perfectly good beer being returned to the brewer or tipped.

      Ha, yes, well the less said about that the better.

      Good points on carbonation and serving temp too.

  3. Whilst the taste of a draught beer is vital to my enjoyment, first impressions on the condition, head and presentation have a big impact even if subconsciously, a flaccid pint served on the bar will already have me questioning my choice, particularly session beers when I am looking for enjoyment.

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