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When it comes to pouring beer, we've all made mistakes. It happens every day in bars, two-hour office lunches, frat parties, block parties, teachers' lounges (probably), maybe even on the International Space Station. Ever tried pouring and pounding a beer in zero-gravity? You have? Here are some guidelines to help you pour a better beer down here on solid ground.
Basic guidelines. If you want a quick and reductive guide to pouring a beer (more or less effective for most beers), here it is.
Angle the beer glass. Tilt that stein about 45 degrees.
Gently pour your beer down the side of the glass, aiming for about the halfway point of the glass. When slightly more than half of the beer is poured, make the glass perfectly vertical again and pour the remainder directly into your beer to create a nice head.
A good head should be somewhere between a finger-width and 1.5 inches tall. Optimal head size depends on the beer.
What's so important about head? A beer with no head is kind of like a person with no head, but worse. The loss of head is more than an aesthetic loss. Many beers require the head to reveal their aromatic and flavorful character.
Different pours for different beers (I wish that rhymed...) The aforementioned guidelines are merely general; you should tweak them for different beers. Here are some important tweaks.
For ales. Follow the general rules pretty closely, but perhaps pour a little longer along the side of the glass while tilting it. Your goal should be a head that measures about a finger-width. Too much head means that you lose some of the ale's characteristic bitter or hoppy flavors.
For hefeweizen. A hefeweizen's head can sneak up on you and cause quite a surprise. Its strong foaming potential means that you should pour extra gently along the side of the glass. You don't have to straighten the glass halfway through your pour. If any straightening is necessary for your head, you could do it at the very end. As a general rule, include yeasty sediment at the bottom of the bottle (more on that later).
For stouts. A stout deserves a thick head. If you go to a bar and order a Guinness on tap, you'll hopefully notice the bartender slowly fill your beer glass halfway and then let the beer settle a bit before finishing the pour. You should imitate this method when you pour your own stouts. After you've very gradually poured half of the beer, pause to let the beer settle, and then continue with the rest.
For pilsners. Many suggest that you merely pour straight down into a vertical glass in order to achieve that healthy pilsner head, which characteristically extends over the lip of the glass.
Beer with residue at the bottom of the bottle. If you look at the bottom of some beers, you'll see yeasty sediment that has settled to the bottom of your bottle. In some cases, you should leave this sediment out of your glass, pouring gently so as not to agitate it. Bottle-conditioned beers are famous for the sediment at the bottom. Some people don't mind drinking it, but many feel that this yeasty sediment should be kept out of the beer in order to allow more delicate flavors to come forth. But for other beers (such as hefeweizen and unfiltered Belgian whites), this sedimentary component can hold some pretty important flavor for the beer. In these cases, you should actually adjust your pour to include as much sediment as possible. Pour almost all of the bottle's contents gently, leaving only a couple ounces in the bottle. Then swirl the contents of the bottle in a circular motion, tilting the bottle slightly, to loosen all of the sediment and blend it with the remaining frothy liquid. Then pour these flavorful last ounces into your glass and enjoy!
Be prepared to encounter bad pours. The bad beer pour is not only a party foul committed by many a drunken college student. Genuine, bona fide bartenders make mistakes, too, sometimes tragically. If it's a first-time offense, you might want to let it slide, lest you be known as a beer snob. But after two or more repeat offenses, you should mention the mistreatment.
Thieves. If you've spent time in numerous bars (and if you haven't, how on earth are you spending your life?!), you've doubtlessly encountered the cheapskate bartender who trims ounces off of each pint in an effort to save money. They often mask their thievery by pouring too much of a head on the beer.
Head-haters. Still others commit the reverse sin - pouring a beer with absolutely no head. As the head is a vital component of beer, pouring a beer with no head - even if the bartender believes it is an act of generosity to provide more beer - actually undermines your appreciation of the beer.
Good to the last drop? When it comes to beer bottles with sediment, a good bartender should ask the patron whether or not to include the sediment in the pour. However, all too often the bartender just assumes that every bit of a beer is intended for consumption.
Pouring into the right glass. Any purist will tell you that the glass is almost as important as the pour. Even those of us who twist, pry or bite the cap off of a beer bottle and call it done occasionally want to see the beer as they drink it, and why shouldn't they? Some (myself included) would argue that ignoring the appearance of the beer is a slap in the face of the brewer who painstakingly crafted the precious drink. Would you serve wine in an opaque plastic cup if you had access to stemware?
Beyond that, though, beer glasses are designed to aid in the full appreciation of different beers. Because a stout and a hefeweizen are very different, for example, they fare better in very different glasses. Consult Beer Advocate's helpful guide for choosing the right beer glass. Treat those suds with dignity!
The importance of cleanliness. Dust, grime and oils can interfere with the flavor of a beer, and can also disrupt carbonation and the production of a good head. Always pour your beer into a clean glass. If you're worried that the head will be too large, wet the inside of your glass prior to pouring the beer.
Remember the first time you poured a beer? Most of us remember our first attempts as being wasteful and inelegant. Many of us continue to make mistakes pouring beer well into drinking maturity - sometimes overcompensating for earlier mistakes, other times carelessly (or drunkenly) repeating the same ones. I don't really care what you do with Coors Light, but good beer deserves a proper pour. You deserve it, too!