A Primer on Pouring

Tiny Bubbles 

Some trends in brewing are cyclical, some are specific to a time. Before craft beer, despite or maybe because the beer palate was so uniform, advertisements tended to focus on ancillary issues.

Before World War I clarity was pushed as desirable, following presumed – or at least claimed – consumers’ diktat. In the 1950s until the late ’70s, how to pour a beer was a key issue in beer circles. It was the subject of numerous beer ads. Every beer book in that time addressed the pressing issue.

Here, in 1959 in Clinton, NY you see the spin Utica Club placed on the topic. Walter Matt, owner of F.X. Matt Brewing, gave advice to readers in the form of the ad mentioned, part of a series of folksy, “armchair” chats the brewery had with customers. Part of the ad states:

Open a bottle of Utica Club beer. Pour one glass straight down the middle, with a thick head; the other down the side of the glass, with little or no head. Taste them both (with a soda cracker in between). I think you’ll be amazed at how much more mellow the beer with the head tastes. No bitterness. Very much like a glass of draft beer that’s been properly drawn.

Creating a beer with a thick, creamy head — the kind with the tiny bubbles that lace the side of the glass going down — this is the thing that a brewmaster takes the greatest personal pride in. Especially if it’s a natural head, like Utica Club’s, not one that’s artificially carbonated. We go to a lot of trouble and expense to get that natural head, aging the beer for months instead of for weeks.

So you can understand why it breaks my heart to see someone pouring Utica Club beer on an angle to cut down the head!

Was Walter Matt correct? I think yes, but it is intuitive for most who drink beer regularly to pour it, if not straight in as he advises, then in a way to produce a nice head. The beer is less gassy and for many will taste better. Less bitter though? I’m not sure of that, and anyway lack of bitterness is no longer an obsession of most brewers, not craft producers anyway.

In his day when beer was stored ice-cold and thinnish from cereal adjunct as well, it was easier to pour straight in without the glass overflowing or head too high. Today, richly malted beers, probably served warmer on average than back in the ’50s (ditto for draft), must be poured a little differently to keep it stable in the glass. Still, we take his overall point.

Yet many still pour a can or bottle gingerly to produce no head; they seem to like it that way. I see this regularly in the bars and taprooms of the land. That’s okay too. It’s a free world, do your own thing.

Today, everyone decides for themselves such matters. Canadian media and technology guru Marshall McLuhan wrote, not many years after the F.X. Matt ad, that there are no passengers on spaceship earth; we are all crew. Think about it.