All around us are so many amazing things sometimes it is a shame we lack the time to appreciate and understand them. One of them, for example, is how a foamy head builds when you pour soda, sparkling wine, or a beer. And even though the common denominator of these three drinks is CO2, beer head is the one that triggers the most debates between beer drinkers and connoisseurs alike. Let us go over some the most common myths that have spawned around the layer of suds that top off your beer glass.
Myth: Beer head is just gas.
Reality: beer head is made of bubbles. These bubbles are made of carbonic gas wrapped by an ultra-thin layer of 99 % water and a remaining 1 % consisting of malt polypeptides and hops iso-alpha-acids. The myth is kind of saying a helium balloon is only helium and forgetting there is a foil bag.
Myth: Swallowing the foam makes you feel bloated.
Reality: while it is true that carbonated beverages induce bloating, there is a bigger incidence of bloating in fizzy flavored sodas and mass-produced beers consumed in large quantities. Besides, if we go back to the previous item, you should realize that by tasting just the foam, you will be able to better appreciate the flavor of hops. Want to get the real taste of hops? Grab a spoon and scoop up some suds.
Myth: The shorter the head, the better.
Reality: beer head size is highly debated. In spite of this, when having beer poured in a glass or a pitcher, it is advisable that the glassware have a clear marking of the liquid volume. This way, the head should be above that marking and never below. On the other hand, personal preference and regional customs are also important factors to take into account. In northern England, to give you an example, they like their beers poured with a tall head, while the people way down south prefer a thin layer of foam near the glass rim.
Myth: Beer head keeps the liquid from oxidating.
Reality: in general, people drink up their beer way before the oxidation process begins. This process consists of the interaction of the oxygen in the air with the alcohol molecules and the particles responsible for beer flavor, which results in unpleasant features. Just the same, you should pay attention to the next myth.
Myth: Beer head only makes beer look pretty.
Reality: while it is true that a beer perfectly crowned by foam is a beautiful view, the beer head has two additional roles to play. The first contribution of beer foam is protecting the liquid from foreign agents such as cigarette smoke, grease on the drinker’s lips, etc. The second task that the foam performs is contributing to the mouthfeel of the liquid. Many enjoy the feeling of those bubbles as they touch their lips and rejoice with the creaminess of the head on some stouts and porters, for example.
Myth: Beer head must be white.
Reality: the most consumed beers in the world feature a white head, but even white can come in different shades. There are even dark beers with white heads. The important thing to know is that just like the color of beer is the result of blending different types of malt, the color of foam will also be influenced by the ingredients. In general, it is the use of the highly-valued specialty malts and the addition of non-traditional ingredients (fruit, herbs, spices, etc.) that gives foam its color, while the use of unmalted roasted barley adds color to the liquid but not the foam.
Myth: The head lasts longer when the beer is good.
Reality: here is where most of the debates arise as there are several factors that affect head retention. First, there are ingredients such as wheat and oats that help retention, so they may be used in beers that do not traditionally include them. There is also beer’s alcohol strength (ABV for Alcohol by Volume). The higher the ABV, the shorter retention. Finally, there is the gravity of beer. A high-density beer will precipitate more slowly among the bubbles, and the film that covers carbonic acid will live longer.
Even though there are other factore involved in the formation and retention of a beer head, it is time for the beer drinker to learn to appreciate it as the fundamental element it really is. Foam must be something desirable in a well-poured glass or pitcher; however, it should not be used by bars in restaurants to serve smaller amounts of liquid and cheat the public. Some say a one-ich beer head is the right thing. The right thing will always be common sense and the best serving practices.
*Publicado originalmente en la edición N°9 de la revista Catering & Gastronomía