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How to get the best head Editorial Image

How do you get the best head?Part two of the two part series on head

A robust head is truly seductive. It looks fantastic and it’s packed with flavour. But it doesn’t always go according to plan. The airy collar can end up collapsing like a house of cards. How do you avoid this and impress your friends with the perfect head? Here are some tips for producing a good one.

Intentional damage

Numerous factors can impact the stability of the head. The shape of the glass, the temperature, the raw ingredients and the brewing process are just some of the most important elements. A small pilsner glass will retain a bigger head than a wide trappist glass or a bowl-shaped glass. A greasy glass will destroy all traces of head. An uneven glass will create extra oxygen bubbles, which is why some brewers damage their glasses intentionally. Duvel is a good example of this. If you look at the bottom of the glass, where the stem meets the bowl, you’ll see the letter D for Duvel. This is an intentional act of destruction. The coarseness of the glass pushes the bubbles of oxygen to the top and feeds the head from below.

Skimmed alive

When it comes to putting a beautiful head on beer, there are many interpretations. Take the different approaches of the Netherlands and Germany, for example. In the Netherlands, we like our beer tapped in a fluid movement, immediately after which we skim the beer ‘alive’ - in other words, while the foam is streaming over the edge of the glass. This creates a layer on the head that improves stability. The Germans tap their beer glass three quarters full, before letting them stand for a minute. Then they fill the glass up to two centimetres over the edge - it’s an art form! Skimming? The Germans aren’t fans of it.

You can find the most extreme interpretation in the Czech Republic: order a Pilsner Urquell Mlíko style and you’ll get a vase of almost entirely creamy, aromatic head. It’s definitely fun to try!

Practical tips for a good head

What can you do at home to enjoy the beautiful sight of a good glass of beer with a proper head? Here are some of our top tips:

  • Never put beer glasses in the dishwasher; dishwasher tablets are head killers. Hand wash your beer glasses, preferably in lukewarm water and a little baking soda. Rinse off with lukewarm water and dry with a clean cloth. A regular tea towel normally does the trick. A professional polishing cloth works best; a hydrophillic cloth is an excellent alternative.
  • Rinse off pilsner glasses before pouring the beer. These glasses are wet and rinsing films the inside of the glass. Don’t rinse off craft beer glasses - pour the beer directly into a dry glass.
  • Grease is an absolute killer. Croquettes, cheese, sausages and peanuts are delicious with a glass of beer, but as soon as your lips touch the glass the head will collapse. Lipstick is another source of grease and has the same effect. If you’re planning on serving food with your beer, rinse off glasses regularly with lukewarm water to remove any greasy residue.
  • Pour the beer slowly and evenly into your glass. Hold your glass at a 45 degree angle and slowly return it to an upright position as you fill it. Take your time for this ritual and you’ll be rewarded with the beautiful sight of a full and creamy head of beer.
  • You don’t have to do the next one, but it’s a fun cheat to add to the list: take a citrus stirrer - one of those plastic sticks you use to stir slices of lemon into your soft drink (no, not your white beer)! Stir your pilsner a few times and voilà!


Want to read more? 

Why does beer have a layer of foam? Part 1 about foam
The art of beer tasting
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