When you order a pint of beer, that foamy head on top is for more than dipping your top lip in and making a fake moustache (though that’s fun, too). It actually serves a variety of purposes that are seriously important to your overall drinking experience.
First of all, how does the beer head form? It’s produced by bubbles of carbon dioxide rising to the surface. The foam can happen naturally through fermentation or by dissolving carbon dioxide under pressure into the liquid. The type of malt and grains used will determine the density and longevity of the beer head, while the hops help the foam cling on the side of the glass.
In college, you probably mastered the art of tilting your plastic cup at the keg to avoid any type of foam. Who wants foam when you can have more beer? Just for the record, it’s sad (we could go so far as pathetic) that you were avoiding foam for a full cup of Natty Ice – but we’ve been there too. Luckily for you, we’re here to tell you why that foam is important. The beer brings the flavor, but the head brings the aroma and experiencing the smell ultimately impacts the taste. You need both senses working together to give you the full sensory picture of what you are drinking. The foam also protects the beer from being exposed to oxygen, which can negatively impact a beer pretty quickly.
Beer enthusiasts also note that the glass the beer comes in is very important. The most essential factor is actually cleanliness. A glass can easily retain oils from nearby cooking (think late night bar food) or a person’s skin, as well as fat from food. If a glass is not cleaned properly, those oil and fat traces can reduce the beer’s head and the bubbles will stick to the glass instead of rising. In addition to being cleaned properly, they should also be completely dry because left over water can make the beer taste flat.
The ideal beer head should be about 1-1.5 inches, though some beers can get away with being a little taller. Either way, pay close attention to your beer’s head next time you sit down with a pint and make sure you really go in for a good smell.