You already know how to pour a beer. I don’t want to tell you how to pour a beer. But I am now going to tell you how to pour a beer.
Or rather, I am going to merely suggest that there are others ways. I would further suggest that perhaps 99 percent of the time you are pouring without thinking and doing it the way you always do, because dammit man, you already know how to pour a beer. (Shhh, I know you do, I know.)
But since we’re in this for fun—even if it’s the sort of fun occasionally edged with a need to GET THIS DOWN MY GULLET NOW—well, we might as well play. Because here is the truth: How you put that beer in your glass can change in not-so-subtle ways how your beer tastes, smells and feels. If it turns out in a way you like better—and it might—shouldn’t you do it? Are you not master or mistress of your own domain? Sure you are.
What I really want to do right now is just jump ahead and tell you about what I call the Angry Pour—IT’S MY FAVORITE, TRY IT, TRY IT—but first we ought to cover the basics. Not everyone is as practiced a hand as you are, friend.
The Classic Pour: This is probably the way you pour it most of the time without even thinking. If you ask Google or YouTube about this topic, you get an endless stream of articles and videos telling you exactly how to do what you already do. (Yawn.)
Here is what you already do: Hold your clean glass, maybe after a quick rinse with cool water, at a 45 degree angle. (Feels a little steep to me. I like, oh I don’t know, let’s say 57 degrees.) Then gently pour down the side of the glass until about halfway through the beer, or until a little voice in your head says it’s time to straighten the glass and pour down the middle because you have poured beer a million times before and you are totally doing this in your sleep aren’t you? And somehow we end up with about an inch of foam. Poured this way, the head tends to disappear quickly, but who cares? It all ends up in the same place anyway, right? GULLET.
The Gentle Pour: There are three types of occasions in which we slowly pour down the side of the glass pretty much the whole time: (1) for absurdly carbonated beers like Duvel or hefeweizens, which moisten your shoes and attract flies and frat boys if poured down the middle for more than a nanosecond; (2) if you are feeling mild-mannered, would like a dead-looking beer without head, and don’t want to disturb any of those cute little bubbles; or (3) are really new at this and honestly don’t know what the hell you are doing (in that case, welcome!).
Now we get to the advanced stuff, which is so advanced that amateurs think it’s the wrong way to pour a beer. Why? Because amateurs are amateurs: They tend to think all sorts of stuff is wrong because other amateurs told them so, failing to realize that there are no rules when it comes to consensual vice, to the simple hedonistic pleasure of a thirsty person and a moderately alcoholic beverage. You own that beer, and you (probably) own that glass, and you (definitely) own those precious, fleeting moments of pleasure that the drink will bring you in the midst of our short, busy lives.
So ignore the amateurs. Ignore me too, but not until you’ve tried this next one on a few different beers. Why? Because we’re friends, you and I, and this is the recent obsession I have been nursing in the privacy of my own kitchen, and it has motivated me to write a column about “how to pour beer,” which is something I’m sure I vowed I would never ever do (probably back when I was an amateur).
Some of you will think this is nuts, while some of the rest of you know and keep it filed under “party tricks,” collecting dust in the back of the cabinet. Normally I think it’s called a “vigorous” or “aggressive pour,” but after I showed it to some friends (not as good a friend as you, don’t be jealous), they immediately forgot and started calling it “the Angry Pour.” Which is clearly a much better name. It alludes to the possibility of taking out some frustration on your beer at the end of a long day.
So here it is, the Angry Pour: Get a glass that is larger than the amount of beer. Do not tilt the glass. Just set it down on the counter and pour straight down the pipe. Yes, it will foam up—stop before it overflows. Then wait for a minute or two for the foam to calm, or go do something else—them dishes ain’t gonna wash themselves, you know. Eventually you can pour more—always straight down the middle. Then wait again. Repeat. Eventually—usually after just a few pours, in three to five minutes—you’ll have an empty bottle of beer and a sexy, sturdy cap of foam that might even look like a scoop of ice cream. That foam is your friend and it may or may not choose to accompany you until the end of the beer.
The Angry Pour takes patience (hmm, that doesn’t sound very angry) and it kills carbonation (that’s more like it); the bubble-killing is part of its appeal. Carbon dioxide tends to accentuate bitterness and acidity; knocking it out of solution can leave behind a beer that tastes sweeter and feels creamier in the mouth. It always gives me the impression that I’m tasting more beer and less bubbles.
On the other hand, bubbles are cute and fun and they have their uses: They seem to help scrape things like lingering hop resin and oily fat off our tongues. So consider your needs and preferences.
Try it with different beers and see what you think. Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of classic German Helles like Ayinger and Augustiner, which positively bloom into something richer and creamier once the bubbles are shoved out. It seems to make subtle beers less subtle. I also like the result with stronger, hoppier beers where I want to taste more malt.
I didn’t make this up, by the way. I think I first read about it six years ago in Randy Mosher’s book, Tasting Beer. I’ve looked through other sources presumptuous enough to tell us how to poor beer—er, sorry!—in print and online. I find very few that mention this method, let alone endorse it. But endorse it Mosher does: “Trickling down the sides is for sissies,” he writes, “and will result in a too-gassy beer with little aroma and a poor, quickly dissipating head.”
So much for conventional wisdom.
Mosher adds: “There are places in Europe where drinkers are suspicious if the beer arrives too quickly, because they understand what is needed to create a great head on a beer and are willing to delay gratification for a minute or two for the sake of a better experience.”
This is true. I have seen it often in Germany, where bartenders often fiddle with my beer under the taps for longer than I would like, in the end arriving with a willibecher full of something photogenically beautiful and creamy and tasty.
It’s always worth the wait.