How Much Head Is Too Much Head?

Living in Ireland, I think it’s safe to say that I am the Consumerist’s resident alcoholic and therefore beer expert. Ben, on the other hand, is the resident expert on telling homeless people to ‘Get a job!’, squirting small children in the face with the Oozinator and stealing AOL Customer Retention Manuals from dumpsters.

So when Rick B. wrote us, asking us “how much head is too much head?” I was going to pass it on to Ben. After all, he’s the one who recently defended himself to members of our Rainbow Brigade Readership by claiming to have “gone behind the Velvet Curtain.” But then I saw Rick’s email was about beer, so I felt confident in responding.

Rick wants to know if he’s being a crybaby if his 22 ounce beer contains 5 ounces of head. My response? Fuckers who gyp a man out of his God Given, Constitutionally Guaranteed right to an accurately measured brew ought to be fucking shot. But Rick wants your opinion too, after the jump:

I have a question for your readers: How much head is too much head?

Allow me to explain. This past weekend I was at an establishment specializing in selling beer: hundreds of brands of beer from all over the world with a dozen or so on tap. My wife and I went there with some friends after a movie.

My first beer was a “22 oz draft” that came with more head on it than I’m accustomed to seeing. It wasn’t half the glass, but it was enough that my first couple of swigs were mostly foam. I figured that the glass held more than 22 ounces, and the foam was over the 22 ounce line. When I received my second 22 ouncer, one of our friends had just received a 16.9 ounce bottled beer and a glass the same size as mine. I asked him to empty the beer into his glass so we could compare. The quantity of beer in my glass was essentially the same as his (mine was prehaps just a tad more). Feeling jilted out of nearly 10 ounces of beer (5 from each glass) I called the waitress over to ask about the situation. “Is this a 22 ounce glass?” I asked. Yup. “Why am I only getting 17 ounces of beer?” “Our policy is that there should be no more than 1 inch of head on the top”. “So, I’m not really getting what I paid for, right?” “That’s right”.

My recollection of most other beer serving establishments is that the beer is served as close to the top of the glass as possible, letting the foam overflow into the drain pan. Is this place ripping off its (soon to be drunk) customers, or am I a crybaby?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kornkob says:

    Generally, in most carbonated beers head of 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch is considered ‘optimal’ for a pint.

    It is notable that if the beer drinker is patient, head becomes beer as the head settles, albeit at a reduced volume.

  2. A_B says:

    I’m going with “crybaby.”

    From Beer Advocate:

    “How To Pour A Beer”

    “[snip] At the half-way point bring the glass at a 90° angle and continue to pour in the middle of the glass. This will induce the perfect foam head. And remember, having a head on a beer is a good thing. It releases the beer’s aromatics and adds to the overall presentation. You may also want to gradually add distance between the bottle and glass as you pour, to also inspire a good head. An ideal head should be 1″ to 1-1/2″.”

  3. Brian D says:

    An establishment that specializes in beer should know how to pour it. A_B has the right description, but wrong conclusion. A head of 1 inch will probably not take up the 5 ounces described. After all, the waitress admitted the head was bigger than their one inch policy. However, there should be some foam, but how much depends on what kind of beer you’re drinking.
    On a side note, pouring the excess foam into the pan is just sloppy and wrong.

  4. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    I’ve had a similar experience. There is a restraunt near me that serves beer in 16oz or “22oz” glasses. They had a promotion last year where they let you keep the glass if you bough the beer of the week. Since I happend to like that beer I bought it and kept my huge glass.

    At home a few days later I decided to pour a 16oz bottle of beer into my cool new glass. Much to my surprise my glass was full(with no head) and I still had about 2 ounces of beer left in the bottle. Since then I always stick with the pint glass. Those tall lanky “22oz” glasses can be decieving.

  5. bambino says:

    The post title is a rhetorical question.

  6. tinfoil says:

    The amount of head will vary with the variety of the beer, but in most cases I wouldn’t ever expect to see more than 1.5″, 1″ would be better. If there is little to no head, and I didn’t pour it myself, I would likely end up sending it back.

  7. anadune says:

    I am in agreement that an inch of head is probably about right, but I like what my local beer snob shop does instead. They pour it so that the head is formed, when it reaches the lip they stop, spoon it out, and then continue pouring. Repeat as necessary.

    Also I’ll defer to their judgement because the owner and primary server is a professional brewer.

  8. meterbridge says:

    Isn’t it just possible that the drinking establishment in question is in fact ripping off customers AND he’s a crybaby?

  9. A_B says:

    To be clear, I think he’s a crybaby for both writing to Consumerist and believing that the following is the way they should have poured his beer: “My recollection of most other beer serving establishments is that the beer is served as close to the top of the glass as possible, letting the foam overflow into the drain pan.”

    I think it’s too hard to determine with any kind of accuracy whether his guess on the amount of head on his beer was (under proper criteria) correct or not. The question and the waitress’s statement are ambiguous and she may have simply been appeasing him. And we don’t know the size of his 22oz glass, so it’s hard to say how thick 5oz would be. What if it tapered near the top, thereby making the head appear thicker?

    Also, and I’m not going to look it up ATM, should a 22oz. beer have a thicker head than a pint of beer? Should it remain a constant thickness or should it be a constant ratio?

    /Far too much thought about an inconsequential topic

  10. The_Truth says:

    My solution and something that I have been doing for a while:

    “Bartender, big glass (Pint 22oz etc) of beer X”
    “Keep filling, keep filling, yeah I know, no i dont want any head, Yeah
    the froth has air in it, air is free therefore your trying to rip me
    off, keep filling, no i dont care about the added taste it gives, great
    stuff, thanks”

    Easy as that.

  11. Aph says:

    If you’re gonna take drinking seriously man you better be ready to be into knowing your bartender. He is your friend.

  12. Elvisisdead says:

    That’s why the Brittish system is perfect. Ever wonder what the etched crown is on a Brittish pint glass?

    From Wikipedia:
    UK law requires certain steps be taken to ensure that a pint of beer is indeed a pint. Though this can be achieved using so-called “metered dispense” (calibrated pumps), the more normal solution is to use certified one-pint glasses. These have a crown stamp and number etched upon them. The number relates to the authority certifying the capacity of the glass (see [3] and [4] (PDF)). Selling beer in unmeasured glasses without using some other form of calibrated measure is illegal. Slightly cheaper non-stamped glasses are also made for use at home. Half-pint glasses are also available, and are subject to the same laws.

    So, his answer is to move to the UK.

  13. steinwaytony says:

    I vote for no new posts until we see some Retention.

  14. bambino says:

    The_Truth: Either you’re kidding and not very funny, or I feel sorry for whichever drinking establishments you frequent.

  15. AcidReign says:

    …..Wow. We drink out of the bottle or can in Alabama. Some of us more sophisterkated redneks use a beer coozy, and stuff a lime wedge into the bottle, but that’s about it! We get what we paid for, unless a low-fill manages to get by the fil-tek in the beer plant and out into the market, in which case we bitch to the beer distributor and get a free case!

  16. Ben Popken says:

    Jim writes:

    “You guys might not consider this a tip, but while I was stationed in Heidelberg West Germany I took a liking to Pils. The beer was served in a brandy snifter like glass. I remember the barkeep sticking off the head when I first started going to a certain pub, but after I became a regular would leave it on. I generally ordered 2 at a time as it took about 10 mins for the head to settle. So he would start one, and after about 5 mins start another for me. The head on a cellar pils would normally be about half the glass plus 2 inches above the rim. The wait was always worth it. And also, there was a serving line marked on the glass. I never had a pils hit below the mark.”

  17. gryftir says:

    isn’t gyp something of a racial slur against gypsies as con artists and cheats?

  18. Papercutninja says:

    But arent they?