Lots Of Bars Have Guinness, But Do They Know How To Properly Pour?

A pint of Guinness beer isn’t just a refreshing way to slake your thirst. When poured properly, it’s also a thing of beauty: that rich, dark body layered on top by a thick, foamy, caramel-colored head.

What? Yours never looks like that? Then find a different bar.

Whereas with most beer, a one-time pour (with the glass at angle to keep foam to a minimum) is usually sufficient. With Guinness–as I learned a few years back guest-bartending at Roseville’s Boxing Donkey one St. Patrick’s Day–there are a few more steps. Assuming you already have the right kind of pint glass (one of those Guinness glasses with the narrow base that widens near the top), let’s get started.

Step one: With the glass held at a slight angle, the tap handle is pulled and the glass is filled up a little over 2/3 of the way.

Step two: Stop pouring. Set the glass down. This is the critical step…the one naive or impatient bartenders sometimes skip. Most stout (Guinness is a stout) beers have nitrogen in them. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles (found in most other kinds of beer). In a glass the shape of a Guinness glass, most bubbles–nitrogen or carbonation–will sink instead of rise. I don’t completely understand the physics but it has to do with the sloping walls of the glass. Anything mid-glass or above will still rise, but below that, the bubbles along the glass’ walls will drag, and sink. And since nitrogen bubbles are smaller and much more numerous, they tend to clump together and are more susceptible to drag. All that is a really long way of saying, that’s why the bubbles in a glass of Guinness cascade down the inside of the drink, and it’s really cool to watch. Those bubbles need time to settle and be absorbed.

Step three: How much time does the glass need to sit? Guinness actually has an official time: 1 minute, 32.5 seconds. Yep. But truth is, anywhere close to that is probably going to work.

Step four: Finish pouring. With the majority of bubbles now absorbed by the beer and out of the way, finish your pour. The remaining bubbles, because they’re near the top, will rise to the top. Because they’re nitrogen, and smaller, and clumpier, they will settle at the top of the beverage for that soft, foamy, perfect-looking cap.

Now, there are some who say this pouring technique is nothing but a marketing gimmick (a slogan of Guinness’ is “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait”) and that it has no overall affect on the flavor of the beer. And that may be true. But the aesthetics of a perfectly-poured Guinness being set down in front of you is part of the joy of having a Guinness, and while taste is certainly the overriding factor…there is something to be said for aesthetics, too. Click below to watch a complete demonstration. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and….bottoms up!

More from Tom Mailey
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