TOP TIP: Putting Life Back into Flat Beer

A while ago, we got involved in a conversation on Twitter about how to put a head on flat beer.

You can buy a fancy-pants sonic foamer (they tried to send us a sample, it got impounded by Customs, we never retrieved it) but what lots of people recommended was a syringe. There’s more on how it works here but, basically, you squirt a mix of air and beer into the glass which introduces nitrogen into the mix like the widget in a can of Guinness.

We struggled to get hold of a syringe, though — for some reason, Penzance chemists look askance at you when you ask for one — and forgot about it. Then we realised that a testing kit we’d bought for home brewing came with a load of these small plastic pipettes:

Plastic pipettes. CREDIT: King Scientific, via Amazon.

As you can see, they turned out to be a pretty effective substitute (no sound):

It might seem a bit daft but it’s really handy when you’ve just slightly misjudged the pour, or had to leave a beer for 10 minutes to take a phone call or something.

We so often get served headless pints when we’re out and about but, realistically, we wouldn’t want to do this in the pub. You could, though, if you’re without shame, and it’s not as if the pipette weighs much.

Plus it is kind of fun: WHOOSH!

11 thoughts on “TOP TIP: Putting Life Back into Flat Beer”

    1. Oh, we always get into a pickle with the language around this. It works best on beers that, for whatever reason, are lively enough but *look* flat. Mostly about cosmetics and… I want to say ‘lipfeel’ but that sounds wrong.

      But there is air/nitrogen being injected and (according to the article we link to) bubbles being created.

      James B on Twitter called it a ‘portable beer engine’.

  1. I can just about see the air bit which is just displacing dissolved CO2. But separating nitrogen from air requires fractional distillation or reverse osmosis and is an industrial practice. So no. Can’t see it chemically.

    Incidentally you can get the exact same effect by sharply rapping the glass on a hard surface.

  2. Having trouble posting this comment so apologies if it appears already. It won’t and can’t be nitrogen which to be separated from air will require reverse osmosis or fractional distillation. It is air pushing CO2 out of solution. You can do much the same by rapping your glass of lager sharply on a hard surface.

    Think that was the gist of it. It won’t work if there is no CO2 present. Widgets are different and require industrial pressure which is the third way to produce nitrogen.

  3. I think the bit about “introducing nitrogen” in the context of the pipette thing is irrelevant/bollocks. The article linked to is one thing, squirting air with a pipette is another – it doesn’t pair up with the physics… nor explain why sparklers give the same sort of result (they do not introduce nitrogen, they merely “excite” the beer). [There is of course some N2 dissolved in 30/70 top-pressure kegs…. but gas does not instantly dissolve in beer, especially N2, a squirt of air is not going to do this…]

    [The nitrogen in a Guinness can is as much about pressure as the (very minimal) dissolved N2 – the widget mechanism is about forcing beer to squirt through a small aperture exciting the beer and forming many small bubbles (mostly of CO2). It’s implementing a sparkler-like mechanism internally in the can.]

    [[Take, for example, the Left Hand “nitro stout” – it’s basically a pretty flat packaged stout. N2 is one thing… but the whole concept does not work without the seriously violent pour the bottle instructs you to do. Again about breaking CO2 out of solution rapidly… and as many times as I’ve tried that stuff, whilst the effect is pretty good it just isn’t the same/as-good-as as a nitro/high-pressure restrictor-plate poured “nitro” beer like Guinness.]]

    Back on track… the point that it is basically a “portable sparkler” is the correct one.

    You’ll get some bubbles just from air (CO2/O2/Nitrogen), but they’ll not be well integrated… just big old air pockets (compared to bubbles from gas breaking out of solution). It’ll do bugger all without at least a bit of dissolved CO2 as the previous comment by Tandleman points out. You’re exciting the solution and thus breaking CO2 out of beer. Basic physics.

    And that’s the next point – what you’re doing is making flat beer flatter. “Head” is formed by CO2 leaving the beer. A sparkler makes beer flatter (results in less dissolved CO2) – and I gather the northern way of generally better cellarmanship means that their beer starts with plenty of CO2 in solution so it takes some but leaves enough behind. (Whereas in “the south” it seems to be the sparkler is often instead used to ensure that badly kept (too flat) cask ale gets any head at all… meanwhile becoming totally flat (but looking good… um… yay?))

    “Flat” is where CO2 is not breaking out of solution … “fizzy”, the opposite, is where CO2 is breaking out of solution. The primary factors involved are dissolved vol CO2 and temperature. (Temperature is just energy… shaking/agitating the solution also introduces energy.)

    Some folk seem to use “flat” meaning “does not have a head”… but this is really just an obvious symptom of the solution being flat, not definitively *flatness* itself. (You can gravity pour a very high carbed cask with next to no head… as we often see in these southern parts in good pubs where pint-to-line glassware has yet to catch on.)

    [I still don’t like sparklers, but then again I like “fizzy” keg beer… But I appreciate the point of sparklers and can recognise why others are fans of the things. ]

    … sorry about the rant/essay.

    1. The one time I had a beer served with the Hartlepool Head, the beer had hardly any condition at all (when I finally got to it). It wasn’t flat flat, but it tasted heavy and dense.

  4. Agreed mostly. The point about condition though needs to be reinforced. If you condition the beer properly, sparkling it will make no difference to the perception of condition. It will not seem flat. Indeed most Northern served beer will seem to have more condition than most London poured beer.

    If you condition the beer properly and serve it Southern style it won’t be flat either. Really it is just poor cellermanship that produces flat beer. Heads and sparklers are desirable extras.

  5. Blimey.

    Clearly out of our depth.

    At any rate, it does what it does in the video and, every time we’ve tried it so far, it’s made the beer look and feel more appetising, without apparently reducing the overall ‘bubbliness’.

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