Its an interesting question isn’t it? Do you want a big froth of foam on your beer or not? Should it be there? Or should some beers have head and other not? These are all good questions, especially because most people that step into a bar and order the average beer completely dismiss the idea of a good rocky head. They seem to see it as a waste of their money, taking up space where the beer could be.
This could not be further from the truth though. It is true that some beers are designed to have more head than others, and some simply wont produce much, if any, based on the style. But the foam that floats on top of your beer is simply an added level of excitement, building on your sensory perception of the beer. Lets take a look at what forms head can take, what it can offer you, and what beers it should, or should not exist on.
What is Head, and Why Would We Want It?
First of all, head is absolutely beneficial to the beer drinker. The bubbles that build in the foam laced above the beer are trapping aromatic gases that will slowly release delicate or potent scents into the air and flow into your nose to provide you with a first layer of understanding of the flavor in the beer. The artomatic flavors of the beer may be different from those of the beer itself – the head will help trap and expose those flavors for your direct observation and enjoyment. How many times have you had a delicious meal placed in front of you and the first thing you do is go in for a good whiff?…
But even more evident than how it affects the aroma is how head affects the presentation of the beer. A nice cap of foam on top of the beer creates a rounded and almost concluded appearance – as if it were designed and build with purpose and stature. You can compare the two similar beers show here; the one poured with close to no head seems to be unbalanced and rudimentary. It shows little complexity and is very one sided. The other beer poured with a greater head appears more finished and proper. It shows depth and excites interest creating a more visually appealing drink. The density, color, size, shape and opacity of the foam will tell you a lot about what you are about to consume. Does the head on the beer on the left tell you anything at all?
The head on beer is created and inflated by the carbon dioxide that is present in it. The surface of the bubbles though, and the chemical structure of the beer is what determines the great many characteristics of foam itself. The structure of the bubbles is influenced by the entire brewing process; the ingredients used and the specific procedures will determine the what specific beer is produced, and how, what type head is created. Factors like protein, fat and alcohol content play a large role in determining the actual structure of the foam, and the glass will have a great affect on how it forms.
A glass such as a Weissbier glass is built with a outward taper in order to promote the head large pillowy structure of sweet, light, aromatic and fluffy wheat beer head. Chalices are created with a wide opened mouth so that the aromas of the beer can easily drift into your olfactory sensors, and to prominently display the depth of the beer. Snifters on the other hand have a narrowing mouth designed to contain the head and trap aromas. This best suites deep beers with a rich depth of flavor and complexity. Depending on the beer, a large head may or may not build in a snifter regardless of its limiting walls; but no matter what its composition, its aromatics will be directed right at you.
All of this leads me to believe that if the beer is capable of producing a head, why wouldn’t you want it? It has its own unique characteristics that simply adds to the complexity and enjoyment of the beer in front of you. The foam may be light and fluffy forming a big mountainous head with a delicate texture and flavor. Or, it could be dense and thick with a silky whipped cream like composure. Surely you don’t want to miss out on all this!
Where head gets a bad rap is most likely from the commodity-grade beers. First of all, most of these beers were not designed to be poured into a glass. All of the marketing that surrounds them explicitly depicts people enjoying these beers right from the bottle flaunting their brand, rather than the beer to the world. These beers don’t taste good, and pouring it into a glass would only emphasize that – so they really have no interest in creating a beer with a substantial foam. Beyond that, the array of chemicals and adjuncts like rice and corn that go into these beers predisposes them to producing a weak, barely sustainable, flaky head that would not entice me to drink the beer.
Good beer deserves head.
In Part 2 we will examine some beer styles and weather or no they should be poured with head…