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Soapbox Article 4: Craft Beer Servings

One thing that gets us riled up here at BeerTengoku is a badly poured pint. In this article, Rob explains why British people get annoyed about it so much- and why you should too.

Now, we know some of you don’t care how their beer is served, just throw it in a glass cold and fast, and down it goes. Most of the readers of BeerTengoku are huge craft beer fans, though, and already know about glasses and how the various styles of craft beer should be served. Perhaps some of you have even got the whole range of Spiegelau glasses (damn you, flimsy glasses, for breaking in my meat hands) that have been specially designed to showcase a beer’s aroma and flavour.

There is one thing that binds all of us together, though, and that is getting the right amount of beer for the money that you’ve paid to drink it. In the UK, there are guidelines that publicans should follow to ensure that a paying customer is not served a meagre amount of beer with a huge dollop of foam on top. Those guidelines stipulate that if you buy a beer, then a minimum 95% of it must be liquid beer and not head. This even went to court, with the judges agreeing that:

the head of froth is an integral part of what is purported to be sold provided that it is not excessive or unreasonable

Customers can even ask for a top up if the head reduces so much that less than 95% of the contents of the glass is beer. It’s something that, with personal experience of working behind a bar, is taken in good manners and should be granted with grace. Think about it, when you pour yourself a beer at home, do you pour an IPA with a large, voluminous amount of head? Would you pour a pilsner with a two-inch head on top? More than likely not.

Coming to Japan, and specifically the izakayas and bars of Japan, I was initially shocked to see patrons being served beers that were 75% beer and the rest some frothy head. I put up with it as the beer was cheap – some of these izakayas churn out beers for less than a small decent coffee from Segafredo or Starbucks. So what did I do? I learnt a very useful phrase of Japanese: “泡なし” (“Awa nashi”), which means “no head”. Sometimes it worked and ended up with a beer full to the brim, ready to down. Other times, I got denied and was perhaps left with the worst beer of the bunch.

Unfortunately, it seems that craft beer bars also are starting to get in on the act with the large frothy heads on top. Of course, some of these beers, such as weizens, come intentionally with large frothy heads to allow flavours to produce.However, at a recent visit to Bay Brewing Yokohama, I was served a dark lager with an inch or so of head, that meant the pint glass contained much less than a pint of beer. Other places, too, have been noted to do this- bars such as Craft Beer Market and also Wiz Craft Beer have served me up beers with what I would deem too much head.

For those that hate math, I suggest you look away now and skip this next section….

Why are bars doing this? Is it due to money? Let’s take an example of Kyoto Brewing’s Ichigo Ichie – their recent addition to their year-round beer lineup. Kyoto Brewing list their keg prices for this beer on their website.

The smallest keg they do is 10.4L for 8,580yen, and their largest is 20.5L for 16,913yen. At Wiz Craft Beer, Kyoto Brewing Ichigo Ichie costs 648yen for 420ml, though that portion contained about 65ml of head, which meant I was paying 100yen for that head and 355ml of beer. Take that out of the barrel, and that means you can get 28 servings of “420ml”, making a profit of 10,000yen or so on that keg. If the beer were the 95% amount as in the UK, it would be 400ml, and thus 25 glasses or so would be served reducing the profit by 2000yen a keg.

Other bars that BeerTengoku have been to, such as Thrash Zone in Yokohama and Craft Beer and Whisky Bar Transit in Hatanodai, fill the glass right up to the brim, with the meniscus dangerously close to breaking every single time. The only time I have not seen this happen is when I’ve been drinking weizens at Transit. They’ve come with a large head, but in a larger glass to compensate for this. Other bars such as Baird Taprooms come with oversized glasses akin to Hoegaarden glasses, and mark on the side indicating the volume of liquid served and then extra space for head. In that way, when you pay for 500ml, 400ml or whatever size of beer you want at Baird Taprooms, you get that amount and not 20% head included.

It might seem like we’re being skinflints, tightwads, or whatever word you may use for people being cheap; however, some of the recent serves we’ve had in bars have left us wondering if people new to the craft beer scene are being taken for a ride because of the influence of the big four breweries and their predilection for beers with massive amounts of head. What do we suggest? If you get a beer with too much, ask for a top up! If they refuse, don’t pay for it. Get it sent back and ask for a new beer.

About the Author

Rob

Been drinking beer since longer than I can remember.
You can find me in a bar, on the slopes, or doing DIY.
I enjoy porters, imperial porters, golden ales, and amber / viennas.

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Comments 5

  1. Personally, i prefer awa sugoshi. a little head. Still talking about the beer. One pet peeve for me is when that damn backwards titling gassy foaming faucet is used, to deposit foamed beer on top. Please, just pour it properly in the first place.

  2. I appreciate places like Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, OR that use 20 oz. imperial pint glasses with the 16 oz. “full pint” clearly marked on the side of the glass. This guarantees not only a full pint of beer, but also room for head or even a magical extra 4 oz. of tasty brew!

  3. I think it’s a cultural thing too. Japan has ingrained in itself that all beer must be served with a satisfying image of huge foam on top.
    Czech beers are actually often served with huge head too, as are many German beers (where I fear the Japanese got this image from). however, germn beers have the mark. Us pints do not. Those horrible schooner glasses. As for german beers, look at those bloody horrendous shots of oktoberfest beers being poured fast with up to 50% head, my god. The UK, we have a different image but its not without its cultural bias. When working in the army NAFFI near my home village, I noticed quickly that different folks wanted different pours. Yorkshire men wanted 2cm of head on their pints, southerners about a cm or less. Welsh also about a cm. Scots wanted 150% beer plus another two for free. I had to pour, based on the accent of the customer. Wasn’t easy but its interesting how, even within one country and one system of pouring, we still want things different.
    I’ve been to bars where, if you ask for less head, they simply shorten your pour or scoop out the foam. Disgraceful behaviour.
    I remember falling out with the bartender at a certain place that was asking 1500yen for a pint of a certain rare beer but the guy poured it in a us pint glass with an inch of foam. I wanted less head but the barman got pissed at me. Haven’t been back since. IMO I got bad customer service and whole lot of attitiude. For 1500 the pint should be bloody well poured right. Awful. The bar manager was unsympathetic. The lady who pours there is more sympathetic and pours a much better pint, taking her time. I wasn’t asking for free beer or an extra glass of beer, I was asking for a pint of beer and in a us pint glass, that pint is to the top. Pouring with an inch of foam means that, without touching the beer, it settles to considerably less than a full pint. which is bullshit. a cm id be fine with but 2.5cm is taking the piss, especially when they are asking 1500yen for a bloody short poured pint.

    Yes, the volume mark on the Baird glass is a good thing.
    Part of the reason to avoid big head is of course lack of volume of actual beer but at times, the big creamy head can actually get in the way of tasting the beer. I know a nice head can improve the aromatics of a beer but too much and too thick and creamy and it coats the tongue and changes the perception of the beer underneath. Of course the foam is not another ingredient but it the beer itself but if you change the gas or temperature or shake up a beer, you adjust the perceived flavour.

    Another thing Baird do which I agree with is they pour first, then let the head settle a little, then pour on top again. At least when done correctly. You get a collapsed foam head which is far more dense and stable than the softer, foamier head when pouring fast. It takes a little longer to pour but you get a better beer for it, IMO. However, it doesn’t detract from the beer underneath. I say this but recently I’ve seen a few staff at taprooms pouring the simple, fast way, getting the beer to the customer as fast as they can and that, IMO does not provide the best quality pour. You get foam so the Japanese are happy but with big bubbles that pop fast and you look away, look back and you just have a faint lacing left on your pint. I know this is not the presentation that Baird are after. To be fair, just a few staff have done this and I’m pretty sure it’s done because they aren’t that respectful towards the beer. Believe it or not, quite a few of the workers and sometimes managers at craft beer bars here don’t actually give two shits about the beer they are serving. Hopefully most do, but I’m sure some don’t. For them perhaps it’s just a way to get food on the table or more super dry or happoshu on their nights off. Not trying to accuse, just saying what I’ve experienced and seen. I’ve had under pours and when asking for topping up to the line have been told to wait for the beer head to collapse and the level of beer to rise, which I thought was an unsatisfactory response to a customer. The same guy who pours fast (or at least used to – haven’t been back for a while, so to be fair, he might have changed his ways and become the best craft beer barman in Japan – and I will post on facebook about a beer that I think is perfect).
    When I worked at Bashamichi taproom, I got to pour the Baird way, which is with a big, solid head on top, right at the line but one that wouldn’t disappear straight away but was also not overly creamy. I began working with Takahashi san, who now runs The Pint in Shin Maruko and Sakamoto San who is now I think beer manager at Naka Meguro Taproom, among two of the best in the business, for me at pouring consistent beers.
    I think Baird does a god job in trying to educate it’s staff in how to pour pints and look after the beer, clean lines, etc.
    There was an occasion, this year, I think, where a staff member at Harajuku was pouring too large head on pints (again, i assume part timers who really didn’t know, understand or care about beer but want a pay check and think it would be cool to work in craft beer bar) but to Baird’s credit, they got on top of that and straight away sent out to all taprooms and all beer managers and staff new instructions in how to correctly pour a pint (the beer in question was a handpump and it can be notoriously difficult pour quickly – so slow down!) with the right amount of head. Brilliant response but the fact that it needed to be done in the first place shows how Japan still has a ways to go in educating itself more about beer and how to better serve the customer. It’s not all big foamy German style lagers. Props to Baird for reacting so positively towards customers’ observations and feedback. A lot of other places would just ignore it.
    As for Takahashi san, his new place, The Pint, IMO, pours the best guinness in Japan.
    He takes his time. It’s worth it.
    I’ve learned from working at Baird and from Takahashi san. When i pour my beer at home, I pour, let the foam collapse, then pour again and I get a better looking and more satisfying beer experience. Try it. It works. But I don’t pour two inches of foam! however it might be style dependant. West coast IPas, you dont necessarily want 2cm of creamy foam on top. Stout, maybe.

    Another side thread might be in the use of those damn sparklers on the end of handpumps. I’m firmly in the NO! camp, myself. There is nothing wrong wiht a hand pumped beer that has no head on top. if its to style and poured well. not every beer has to have a foamy head.

    There is another flip side to this too much head, not enough beer argument though.
    Thrash zone and at times transit are the opposite of the big foamy pours. I sometimes WANT 5mm or so of head on my thrashzone pints!
    I can’t think of how much beer they throw away, skimming off the head or over pouring like they do.
    Would you recommend customers to then ask for more head in thrash zone? if they don’t get it, to send the pint back and ask for another one?
    😉

    Yes, I’v been drinking coffee.

  4. I can tell a lot about the beer from the foam. Foam is gas bubbles supported by a coating of beer; it helps increase the aroma of the beer, I can work out info about the body of the beer from the lacing. A lack of foam suggests to me under carbonation of the beer ( not always but often with a beer that has no foam ). I agree we should get the (often tiny) full volume of the beer we purchase in Japan but not at the expense of a good head of foam. For decades, UK pubs use volume marked glasses with extra space for the foam; simple. I think we are looking at marketing and a culture that still does not understand beer, promoting a fashion of serving beer with out foam, maybe to try to separate a ‘quality’ product by pretending it is wine or nihonshu?

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