By John Holl
Recently, I’ve been told that my beer does not have enough foam. I’ve also been told that my beer has too much foam. In both cases, the arguments were linked to products that could either add to a beer’s head, or reduce it greatly.
I first learned of my potential foam problem last autumn at a trade show in Las Vegas when I was introduced to the Sonic Foamer – a plastic device that is shaped like and resembles one of those doohickeys you get at restaurants while you’re waiting for a table.
You know, the kind that lights up and buzzes when the host is ready to seat you.
The Sonic Foamer has a circle-shaped impression on the top that you are supposed to fill with water and set your beer upon. When the beer you’re drinking loses its attractive head you simply push a button and “a finely calibrated, ultrasonic vibration which invisibly passes through the water and into the beer,” is released according to the company. “The vibration activates the gases to create consistent sized bubbles for the perfect foam head.”
It’s a fine device and occasionally fun to push a button and watch carbonation rocket upwards. The only downside – aside from the occasional battery change – is the water droplets that fall from the bottom of the glass onto your shirt as you drink.
But, why should we care about foam? Do we really need a device that foams up our beers? I asked Grant McCracken, a brewer with the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, to weigh in.
“Primarily, foam delivers and releases the aromatic compounds of the hops, malt and yeast from the beer into the drinkers olfactory glands, inside the nose,” he said. “Each bubble of foam is in essence an aroma balloon, which pops and releases the wonderful aromas in beer over time.”
A good head atop a beer can also be important in the flavor and texture of the beer, he said. “It’s also alluring from a visual perspective.”
That’s exactly what the makers of another foam enhancing device want you to think of when it comes to their product, the Menu Beer Foamer.
It resembles a milk frother without the heating element, and just asks the user to pour up to ½ inch of beer into the device, let the whisk do its thing for a minute or so, and then pour the dense foam atop the rest of your already poured beer. A video of the product in action may be found here.
If you don’t want to invest in foaming technology, there’s always the manual method. McCracken explains:
Slowly pour beer into a glass at a 45° angle. Pour the beer, against the middle of the slope of the glass and at the half-way point bring the glass at a 90° angle and continue to pour in the middle of the glass, pulling away near the end if needed to get the requisite inch to inch and a half height.
Do not use spotty or dirty glassware that might have detergent oils built up on them as these substances will destroy the structure of the foam. There are glasses (like the Boston Lager Perfect Pint) that keep the foam tighter to the top of the glass by using a rounded middle and narrow top. Nucleation sites on the bottom of a glass also continually release more CO2, thereby replenishing the aromatic foam at the top.
There are some styles that benefit from a fluffy thick head, and McCracken says having that atop a beer “provides a thicker, smoother contrasting texture, enhancing the overall mouthfeel.
“In many ways, it gives the beer an almost dessert-like quality. Another not-so-apparent benefit of foam is that it’s alluring from a visual perspective,” he said. “It provides some contrast in the appearance in color and texture, enhancing the general appeal of the drinking experience.”
However if appearance and flavor are not your thing, and you just want to “chug a few beers and chill,” well the creator of the Gravity Gulp is here to help.
According to a press release the device “facilitates a quick, steady flow of a beverage into the user’s mouth and with less foam. In doing so, it allows an individual to consume beer faster. As a result, it helps prevent wastage and it could help reduce bloating.”
Less foam is acceptable, says McCracken, with certain styles like strong barrel-aged beers, braggots, and, of course, cask conditioned ales. Something tells me however that the Gravity Gulp guys didn’t have those styles in mind when coming up with the idea.
John Holl is the author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook and editor of All About Beer Magazine. He lives in Jersey City. Contact him via Twitter @John_Holl or JohnHoll@gmail.com