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.