the art of pouring a beer.
February 17, 2007 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Anyone who's ever worked in a bar... The science of pouring beer? How to master the "two-part pour"...without tipping the glass.

I just got a casual job in a dodgy pub for some extra pocket money while I study full-time. Now, I've worked in a bar before, for 2 years. But we mostly served bottled beer. There was a couple of different beers on tap, but it was basically for people who wanted a cheap beer, rather than for people who cared about the way the beer was served. Nevertheless, I didn't seem to have any problems pouring a glass of beer. Until now!

At this new pub, most of the alcohol purchased is indeed, tap / draught beer.
And my boss is on my back about the way I pour it!

At my old job, I was taught to tip the glass at about a 45 degree angle, then to slowly straighten up the glass toward the end. Sometimes you had to "wank" the glass, to get a better head (which I've since found out is the wrong thing to do, for beer connoisseurs.)

But, at this new job, my boss insists that I learn to pour a beer without tipping the glass.
Even though every other barperson I work with tips the glass, he for whatever reason, needs me to learn to pour with the glass straight. If he sees me tipping the glass, he comes over and physically grabs the glass out of my hand, then says "No -- Look: It pours itself." And he keeps telling me, "it pours itself" as he demonstrates:

1. Keep the glass straight.
2. When the glass is around half full, turn off the tap, let it settle and a head forms.
3. Top the glass up.

I assume the reason he wants me to learn this method, is no wastage.

But he is giving me hardly any hours until I learn "how to pour beer properly". He sticks me out in the back bar where there is almost no one to buy beer, so I don't get much practice. And the worst part is, he gets people to "teach me", but they teach me to tip the glass, which of course, he yells at me for!

The other barpeople think it's weird that he doesn't seem to notice that everyone else tips the glass... and I think it's weird too! On my last shift, three other girls and I tried to pour the beer "his way", but nobody could figure it out. The only thing I can think of to deal with this situation is to give him what he wants: learn it his way. But it's tricky.

I feel like I'm in bizarro world... help!
Does anyone have any tips? I'd really love to know the science behind pouring beer.

Every single tap is different, and every single beer behaves differently; I have to somehow learn to get a handle on them all.
posted by mjao to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I may have missed it, but what happens when you do it his way?
posted by smackfu at 7:16 PM on February 17, 2007

Heavy stouts like Guinness are poured straight in a single draw. For any other beer... all I can see happening is a giant head forming, which will take quite some time to settle, annoying your patrons.

Beyond that, I am unaware of any beer expert in the world who advocates against tipping the glass. The brewery that supplied the beer fridge at my previous work also supplied instructions (that we didn't need), indicating the perfect pour is always achieved by tipping the glass.

Your boss, in short, is an idiot. Doubly so for singling you out. Get everyone together, and show him how everyone pours.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:17 PM on February 17, 2007

I am not a bartender, but I've poured a beer or two from a tap. The reason tilting the glass is nice is because the beer runs all down the side of the glass. With a tap, it should be possible, theoretically, to get the beer to run down the side of the glass as your pouring it. I've always seen bartenders tip the glass.
posted by muddgirl at 7:21 PM on February 17, 2007

Turning off the tap partway through the pour is appropriate for only a few beers. I've seen it done at bars with decent beer for Guinness, Belhaven, and similar. Most styles of beer are poured without stopping, often into a tipped glass. "No wastage" seems funny. The proper tipped glass pour involves straightening the glass as it fills, so no beer is ever spilled.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:26 PM on February 17, 2007

I was just at my favorite brewery/pub tonight, and they pour straight (and since they make the damn beer, I'm pretty sure they have solid knowledge on this). They pour it straight from the tap to about halfway up, let the head come up and settle a bit (they pour about 1/3 of the pint glass, the head comes up to 2/3). They wait about thirty seconds for it to settle, then bring the glass up so that the settled beer (about halfway up the glass now) is covering the tip of the spout, and finish it up, letting the extra head run off into the spill trough.
I think it's weird, cause they seem to waste a lot of beer this way (with the spill off) but they don't seem to care at all about the waste.
Sounds like your manager is a jerk. I pour, despite watching the Nodding Head crew, with an angle, as I was taught at the bar I worked at.
posted by nursegracer at 7:34 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: Hi smackfu -> When I do it his way, it just doesn't seem to work for me (or anyone). It froths up far too quickly and the beer is ruined.

I know there must be some kind of "trick" to it, like I need to learn precisely when to turn the tap off the first time, etc.

I have also learned via google that the way I handle the tap may affect it as well? Because I have been grabbing it from the top of the handle, and it sounds like I should be grabbing the bottom. I had no idea that something like that could actually make a difference! But I'll definitely try that next Thursday night.
posted by mjao at 7:35 PM on February 17, 2007

Are you in Amsterdam? What you describe sounds like how they pour the little "pilsjes" there. They're like half foam. This would never go over in other countries.

I agree with dnab's assessment of your boss. Especially if everyone else pours normally and he's just picking on you.
posted by bink at 7:36 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: dirtynumbangelboy -> I'm glad someone else thinks so! Seriously, I don't want to say anything mean about my employer when I don't even know him very well yet, but he just seems really dense. It's messing up my confidence now, even when I (secretly) pour whilst tipping the glass! Conflicting information!

I think I might try to get the other girls together and show him, if I can't figure out pretty darn quick how to do it his way!

nursegracer -> Hmm that's interesting. So my boss isn't unique after all. It does seem like an awful long time to wait a customer wait, though, doesn't it? Thirty seconds!
posted by mjao at 7:40 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: bink, I'm in Australia. I've never encountered someone keeping the glass straight in any bars here.

The thing is -- I'd expect a boss to be finicky if I was in an inner city bar, something high-class, you know. But not a dodgy pub for truckies.

Do you think I should quit? If I try everyone's suggestions and it still doesn't work out?
posted by mjao at 7:42 PM on February 17, 2007

Best answer: Beer Advocate recommends the tilted pour as standard. They also have a list of common errors in pouring and how to avoid them. (You could even email them to ask if they've ever heard of your boss's method.) IMO, your boss sounds like a bully.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:10 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: b1tr0t, re: "You waste beer when you tip the glass?"

No, I never used to, although of course I have wasted beer whilst getting used to the different types of beer/different taps. But sometimes the head becomes too big, and you need to pour a bit more, so it spills over.

I think the boss feels that his method ensures no wastage, seeing as you create the perfect head with the first pour, and then merely top up the glass.
posted by mjao at 8:23 PM on February 17, 2007

Googling around, it looks like some people advocate straight pouring because it removes some of the carbonation. Too much carbonation makes people feel bloated and less likely to order more beers. (Hey, it's their theory, not mine).

Unfortunately, no one gives better advice than "just do it". Most say pour, wait, pour, wait, etc, etc.

Looking back, I can think if maybe a couple bars that do it this way. Usually while they're waiting for the head to settle they're off helping other patrons. Pipelining the processes, if you will.
posted by sbutler at 8:23 PM on February 17, 2007

doubt this will help but it is tangentially interesting. The Boston Beer company just unveiled their new beer glass design that helps sustain the head of the beer longer.
posted by any major dude at 8:31 PM on February 17, 2007

It sounds like your boss in an ass and you've somehow rubbed him the wrong way. If you can't figure out his method just quit and find a different bar to work at, especially since the other bartenders don't get flack for pouring the same way you do. I think a demonstration of the way the others properly pour a beer would only serve to antagonize you toward him further.

Pouring straight reminds me of freshman at college parties who end up with tons of head in their plastic cups and then wait for everything to settle and then pour more foamy beer all the while holding up the line.
posted by 6550 at 9:17 PM on February 17, 2007

...and continue pumping the tap the whole damn time.
posted by flaterik at 11:40 PM on February 17, 2007

When I lived in Germany, it was common to pour the beer until a head formed, wait, pour more beer, wait, pour more until it was full. I assume there was some reason for this related to the quality of the pour or something. If you watched the bartender you could see him doing this, and sometimes it sucked 'cause your beer took forever. In any case, try just doing that.
posted by !Jim at 2:17 AM on February 18, 2007

When he's showing you his way, pay close attention to where the beer stream actually goes in the glass. I'm betting he's starting with the glass off-centre, and moving it a little sideways as he pulls, so that the beer stream is actually running down the tapered inside of the glass until he stops the first time. In other words, he'll be performing a tilted pour without actually tilting.

Which may indeed be a cool trick, but he still sounds like an arsehole.
posted by flabdablet at 2:22 AM on February 18, 2007

It is indeed sometimes done like this with Pilsner beers in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is supposed to take forever, and the head ends up looking a bit like a meringue. You pour it creating a big head, let it fizzle down a bit, then top it up.

However, most places I've been to just pour the "regular" way.
posted by stereo at 5:24 AM on February 18, 2007

At my favorite brewpub the bartenders do indeed pour and stop without tipping the glass. Then they do something else, come back and hit it one more time, the head rises to where it should be, and they serve. This seems to be the preferred method for their heavier beers.

For a lager, I have seen them angle the glass and pour until it spills.

There is some method to the madness I've never been able to to discern, as these people are all career bartenders. I'll ask next time I'm in, but it might be a while.
posted by bh at 6:09 AM on February 18, 2007

Besides select beers like Guiness, the only thing I was ever told to straight pour was micro-bottled beers. The reason giving was the beer wasn't filtered completely, and by straight pouring the beer, you would activate the yeast that was lying dormant on the bottom. Not sure if this is true (or if you'd even want to do it, since I normally leave the sediment in the bottle when I'm drinking it), but it's the only reason I can ever remember being given to straight pour.

My advice would to be to ask your boss why he wants you to straight poor. If it's to avoid spillage, show him you can pour while tilting and not spill a drop. Seems like a straight pour would lead to more spillage, since if you over-draw the head, you'll realistically pour some out then keep the customer waiting. If he gives you any other reason, use the links provided by mjao to dispute his reasons.
posted by Crash at 6:51 AM on February 18, 2007

I'm sorry, but have I read two comments in here saying that Guinness should be poured straight?? (DirtyNumbAngelBoy and Crash, I'm looking at you)

45 degree pour until the pint glass is 3/4 full, allow to settle, complete.

That's a Guinness.
posted by knapah at 8:10 AM on February 18, 2007

I too remember pours like this in the Netherlands (maybe it was only pilsner but not lager?). You'd order a beer, and they'd pour half your beer, put it down, and go do something else while the foam settled. Then they pour the rest of the beer straight, leaving the standard "two fingers" of foam at the top.

But, your boss picking on you seems more or less unrelated to the actual mechanics of beer-pouring. Maybe he wants you to quit.
posted by bingo at 8:31 AM on February 18, 2007

mjoa, to answer the question you asked in your comment, I would quit if I were you. I worked for a guy like this once (my "first warning" came for showing up early on my first day). If he just had weird ideas about pouring beer that would be one thing, but the singling you out is a bad bad sign. It could mean all kinds of things, but it does suggest that beer-pouring isn't his problem with you (it could be something like he has less hours to give than he expected, and he's too weasely to tell you straight). If you get the beer pouring sorted out, a new problem is likely to come up.

It's a job at a bar and you're not getting many hours... is there any good reason not to go get a job at a different bar? Unless the employment situation in your town is really dire, I don't see any reason to hang around taking abuse from a guy whose ruining your confidence and not giving you the hours you want.
posted by carmen at 8:36 AM on February 18, 2007

Mjao, I once read an account of a coach of a nationally prominent girl's volleyball team who was convicted of having sex with some members of his teams, all of whom were underage.

His first move in his campaign of seduction was to relentlessly and harshly criticize everything his victim did. After a while, a short while, she would become so desperate to please him she would do anything he wanted.

I would be surprised if your boss is not attempting to set you up in a simiar way.
posted by jamjam at 8:53 AM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I started in a bar, at Uni, the landlord (it was a freehold pub) came down on me really hard about a lot of things I did, most of all pouring the real ales. His technique was no better than mine, but it was his bar, and I realised that he wanted to let me (and the customers) know who was in charge. Two or three years later, when he sold the pub, we were really good friends, and I still poured the beer the way I had on the first night.

I should point out that I was the only male on an otherwise female staff; so there was some mammalian territorial alpha male stuff going down.
posted by armoured-ant at 10:29 AM on February 18, 2007

In Spain they also do the straight pour, wait, straight pour, wait, and then they clear off excess foam with a little plastic tool designed just for wiping off foam.

Why don't you just pour the way he wants you to? You described the method perfectly in your original post. If the head foams up to fast, don't open the tap all the way. Also place the glass so that the pour hits a side instead of pouring dead center.
posted by sic at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2007

I know why he wants to to pour straight...

Honestly, I a crowded bar you can take orders from someone for a pitcher of beer, start the pour, set the glass under the tap, and take the next persons order, start theres because you aren't tied down to holding the first beer while it pours... They do this at local bars here when it gets crowded.
posted by magikker at 12:23 PM on February 18, 2007

Response by poster: carmen and jamjam, you may be on to something; it did occur to me that he may have ulterior motives for being so hard on me, but I wanted to ask this question just in case there was something I was missing. Also, I am genuinely curious about the art of beer-pouring!

But one of my friends used to work there, and he quit because he didn't get enough hours, so it is possible, perhaps even probable, that he is looking for any excuse to give me less hours.

Evidence to back this up: Two weeks ago, as I said goodbye after my first shift, my boss led me to the roster and said he'd like me to come in on Thursday and Friday.
-> When I turned up for work that Thursday, the first thing he said to me was "I won't get you to work tomorrow, you're not good enough at pouring beer yet."

I suppose it is possible that he had a week to think about how "terrible" I am at pouring beer and so he changed his mind about the days he rostered me on for. But it does look as though he realised he can't afford to keep me on, doesn't it?
posted by mjao at 7:32 PM on February 18, 2007

I echo the sentiment of "he's not just an ass, he's skeevy".
posted by mkultra at 7:51 PM on February 18, 2007

45 degree pour until the pint glass is 3/4 full, allow to settle, complete.

That's a Guinness.

As knapah says, that's how I was taught to pour a Guinness, unless the bar is busy and then it's a straight pour left alone while I get on with the rest of the order. Guinness is a pain in the arse when the bar is packed and speed is of the essence. Bitters get straight poured too if I'm busy as they don't foam so a head isn't an issue. Lagers I've always done the tilted pour, sometimes with a bit of a straight pour if I need to get a better head on it, or a short straight pour start if the bar is super busy and I'm pipelining. I rarely do that as it just means I spend more time spilling the head off it at the end, and it doesn't really save any time - it doesn't take that long to pour a lager.

Your boss is an arsehole. Quit.
posted by corvine at 5:46 AM on February 19, 2007

Best answer: I've tended for many years, and you're correct that each tap is different, but with every tap, one should always pull from the base of the tap, quick on, quick off. It's the whole lever thing - from the top of the handle it opens slower and allows more foam.
Also, if you're using chilled mugs, a couple of rubs on the outside to remove excess frost on the side the beer is pouring into helps a little.
The less the beer has to fall the better, and it doesn't require much of a tilt if you can get the edge of the glass very close to the tap.
Your boss is a tool; the cost of a little wasted foam is insignificant, and a lot gets wasted when changing kegs. Or does he recycle that?
Guinness is it's own thing entirely; any Guinness drinker should expect to wait 2 minutes for his beer.
(by the way, a shot of Chambord drizzled on top of a Guinness is delicious - called a Black Fog. Enjoy.)
posted by hypersloth at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2007

Response by poster: I just found a good resource with a lot of tips; I thought I might post it here for anyone else who has probs figuring out the mystery of pouring draught!
Webtender forum search.
posted by mjao at 10:03 PM on February 20, 2007

I think your boss thinks he's hitting on you.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:10 PM on February 24, 2007

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