Why Your Beer Has a Nice Frothy Head When Properly Poured

Lessons from the Brewmaster with Pure Order’s James Burge

Have you ever wondered why the head of the beer is a different color than the actual beer itself? What makes it stick to the glass and create what we call “lacing”  as you guzzle down your delicious brew?  Why do some beers tend to have a nice frothy head all the way to the bottom of the glass while others dissipate rather quickly and pathetically?  Let’s explore what we do know about “beer head.”

Beer Head, Beer Collar Basics

“Beer head” or “beer collar,” depending on where you are from in the world, is a frothy and bubbly cloud that sits on top of your well poured beer (see how to properly pour a beer) and is what gives our beers that lustrous look all beer photographers pine over and commercials try to accentuate.  Us men have always had an infatuation with the head of our beers, and has been a big concern of mine when developing a recipe for the outside world.  

While different beers have different levels of accepted head retention, the head of a beer is all too important for the modern day drinker.  Too much head, although sometimes a good thing, can be a little annoying, making it difficult to get to the beer itself. While too little head could mean the beer is under carbonated or underdeveloped, and not ready for that commitment for you and your glass. It could also simply mean your glass is very clean, and innocent (more on this later).

A good head, on a beer, not only provides the good looks that draw you in to discover the glorious beer below, it also helps provide an additional aroma and consistency of the glass down to the last drop, increasing your enjoyment of the beer itself.  As CO2 molecules rise to the surface of the beer reinforcing the head, they keep going and are like tiny wind gusts rising through the head all the while collecting aroma on the way to your nose and increasing the overall aroma of that particular beer.  

Head is largely produced by CO2 bubbles roughing up the wort proteins and causing them to expand and link together in a cloud-like manner inside of your glass.  These CO2 molecules latch onto said proteins, leftover yeast, and hop residue, which reinforce those CO2 molecules and capture them in such a way that creates your “head.”  Hoppier beers tend to have more head as a result as do Hefeweizens and other unfiltered beers.  High protein malts such as wheat, carapils, and even 6-row can have similar positive effects on your head retention.

Final Thoughts from The Brewmaster

Lastly, have you ever noticed at the bottom of some brewery’s glassware there are etchings of some sort? Well, this is to produce a nucleation site for the CO2 that is suspending inside the beer and allowing the CO2 bubbles to cascade upwards nicely from one location to the top of the glass.  Same thing holds true for the beer head.  If you have a clean glass or leftover soap residue on your glass it will make it difficult for these proteins, yeast, hop laced CO2 bubbles to stick to your glass causing a dismal head of the beer, no beautiful lacing to the last drop, no extended aroma and a sad sad beer drinker.  So wipe your glass with a towel before pouring your beer into it which will counteract this problem as a simple rinse with water can create the same dilema.  Here’s to great head! CHEERS!

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