Pouring a beer isn’t rocket science, but we still end up with glasses full of foam from time to time. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

First, there are a few good ideas regardless of whether you’re pouring from a bottle or a tap:

  • Tilt the glass to about a 45 degree angle and try to pour the beer down the side. If you can avoid letting it drop too far through the air before touching the glass, all the better.
  • Near the bottom ⅓ of the pour, tilt the glass back upright and allow the final few drops to pour directly into the center of the glass. This opens up the aroma and helps evenly distribute the head in a properly carbonated beer.
  • If this is a livelier beer, you might notice the head grows faster than normal. Slow your pour down and leave the glass tilted longer to try and keep it from spilling out over the top.

Pouring from a Can

Cans are easy. Open and pour using the general practices above. Sediment in cans is highly unlikely, so you don’t have to worry about leaving any behind.

Pouring from a Bottle

Bottles give you the added benefit of being able to see your beer before serving. This allows you to pick up cues that you should pour slightly differently, or even find another beer.

For example, if there’s sediment at the bottom, you’ll probably want to avoid pouring that into your glass. Watch the lip of the bottle carefully near the end of your pour, and stop pouring when you see the sediment reach the lip and begin dropping into the glass. The small amount of beer remaining in the bottle should be left behind. If you intend to share with multiple people, you might notice that the last few glasses are cloudier than the first. To avoid this you can decant the bottle into a pitcher or another serving vessel before pouring to leave sediment behind, then pour individual glasses.

Sediment isn’t always left behind though; if the beer is a hefeweizen, witbier, or another style that benefits from having the sediment in suspension, before opening lay the bottle down on its side and roll back and forth gently to re-distribute.

The other benefit of bottles is you can tell if there are visual problems with the beer before serving. While it’s rare, you might notice light-colored flakes near the bottom of the bottle, or grimy buildup at the surface of the liquid. Both suggest problems that may make this a less than tasty beer.

And a word of warning about beers that come in thicker bottles stopped with corks: that’s for a reason. These beers tend to be highly-pressurized, and have the potential to develop over-carbonation in the bottle, especially as they age. Sometimes this can lead to a gusher, which is exactly what it sounds like. A good practice with these bottles is always opening them over a sink or someplace you don’t mind beer spilling onto… just make sure to have a glass nearby to try and rescue some of the excess.

Pouring from a Tap

Not everyone has had a chance to self-pour from a draft system, so it can seem intimidating at first. And without confidence, most first-timers tend to pull back the tap handle gently, and end up with a glass of foam as their reward.

The key is confidence. Grab the tap and quickly open it up all the way by pulling it toward you until you feel resistance. Leaving it halfway open allows aeration and turbulence that will cause all the foaming. At the end of the pour, close it up completely just as fast. That’s it. That’s the whole trick.

You’ll also want to try and stop before the foam spreads out of the rim of the glass. This takes practice, and even the pros don’t always nail it; you may notice the use of a foam scraper and bar towels to wipe down the sides in specialty beer bars, particularly those focused on European beers. This practice evolved in reaction to customers complaining about excessive foam in their pours, so it’s hardly a necessity. If you happen overflow, the bigger crime is the wasted beer!

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