The perfect amount of foam on a pint of beer

Of course there is no correct amount – it will vary from beer to beer, from region to region and from person to person – but it looks as if a beer we were served on Friday night was pretty close to perfect.

When we Tweeted this with the message ‘One for the Foam Police’ we were being deliberately vague.

What we meant was ‘This looks pretty good’ but wanted to test a theory: we reckon it is possible for a specific individual pint to have both (a) too much head and (b) too little.

When we Tweet pictures of the beers we’re drinking, it’s quite common for people to reply with either something like ‘Stick a Flake in that?’ or ‘That looks in poor condition’.

In this case, though about 90% of poll respondents thought it looked fairly spot on, the remaining votes were split between too much and not enough, with a slight bias towards too much.

It would be interesting to have the ability to drill down into the results a bit more. We suspect those who voted ‘too much’ will be in London and the Home Counties, while those who voted ‘not enough’ will skew younger. But those are just guesses, for now.

Another interesting thing was that some people wanted to know more about the beer before forming a judgement:

Of course there’s a lot of ceremony and debate around lager, especially in the Czech Republic, but we hadn’t considered before that keg beer might be expected to have more head than cask. Now it’s been raised, though, it does feel right.

Altogether, though, what this proves is that it’s a matter of taste, as subjective as anything else.

Is the theatrical cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring too long, too short or about right? Would you like more tracks on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, fewer, or about the same number?

Well, subjective except for in the (sort of) legal sense. There’s a general acceptance, reinforced by messages from industry bodies and Trading Standards, that says a pint should be at least 95% liquid, and no more than 5% foam.

We suspect our ‘about right’ pint on Friday might have failed this test, by a percentage point or two, but in the moment, we really didn’t care.

Training Day: pull it flat

Lots of drinkers in Bristol like their pints flat. That is, completely without foam.

We’ve written about this before but in the past week got more evidence when we saw a pub manager training a new member of staff.

“No, way too much head, bit more,” said the manager. “Just give it another pull.”

“Like this?”

“No, still too much head. You might get away with that up norf but not in Bristol, mate.”

“It’s OK, we don’t mind a bit of a head on our pints,” we said and then took the opportunity to ask a couple of follow-up questions.

The manager told us that older Bristolian drinkers especially really appreciate pints where the beer is absolutely to the rim with as clear a surface as possible.

He put it down to stinginess – “They’re afraid you’re doing them out of nine pence worf of beer.” – but confirmed that it certainly was a matter of preference, not the result of poorly-conditioned beer.

In Bristol, we’re beginning to think the default flatness of the pints is a pretty good indicator of how many born-and-bred locals drink in a particular pub.

In the city centre, where incomers, commuters and daytrippers drink, it’s quite possible to be served 450ml of beer with several inches of head (“Could I get a little top up, please?”) but that’s much less likely in backstreet pubs and the more down-to-earth suburbs.

The Drapers seems to struggle sometimes, too, with bar staff getting mixed messages from traditionalist locals and beer geeks. A few weeks ago we got served beautiful pints, foam piled high, with an apology: “Sorry, it’s very lively.”

Almost anywhere else in the UK, it wouldn’t have seemed so.

The good news is that at the pub we visited last week, the new member of staff eventually got the hang of it, pulling a string of pints with a perfectly reasonable amount of foam – neither excessively northern nor too strictly Bristolian.

That Little Bit of Magic

Cask ale collage.Drinking extraordinarily good Bass at the Angel at Long Ashton on Saturday we found ourselves reflecting, once again, on the fine difference between a great pint and a disappointment.

A few years ago, when we were trying hard to make the Farmer’s Arms in Penzance our local, we had a session on Ringwood Forty-Niner that made us think it might actually be a great beer.

But every pint we’ve had since, there or anywhere else, has been pretty dreadful.

What gave it the edge that first time? And what was missing thereafter? Extra high frequencies, or an additional dimension, somehow.

This elusive quality is what we tasted in eight pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord out of ten at the Nags Head in Walthamstow for several years in a run, and what is so often not there when we encounter it as a guest ale anywhere else.

It’s what makes recommending or endorsing cask ales in particular a mug’s game: “Is it only me that’s never got the fuss about London Pride?” someone will say on Twitter. No, it’s not, and we don’t doubt that you’ve never had a good pint, because it can taste like dust and sweetcorn, and does maybe more than half the time we encounter it. But when it’s good, oh! is it good.

Bass isn’t a great beer in absolute terms, but it can be, honest.

Harvey’s Sussex Best can be a wretched, miserable thing – all stress and staleness – and might well have been every time you’ve ever encountered it. But the next pint you have might be a revelation.

Are the lows worth enduring for the highs? Yes, and it might even be that they make the highs higher.

(We’ve probably made this point before but after nearly 3,000 posts, who can remember…)