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.