How to pour a beer: it's a topic that produces a totally unreasonable amount of debate. Getting liquid into a glass isn't a complicated art. Popping the top and dumping it in there will get you most of the way to beery satisfaction, so why bother intellectualizing it?
Well, for one, visual presentation matters: we eat and drink with our eyes first. We get excited about what we're about to taste if it looks delicious. But beyond that, when you're dealing with bottle conditioned or sediment-heavy beers, it is important to decant the taste-affecting uglies that live in the bottom of your beer bottle or can.
To demonstrate, I've chosen a 16 ounce can of The Alchemist's Heady Topper for several reasons: 1) To make you jealous. 2) To show that cans deserve every ounce of respect that bottles do when it comes to mindful pouring. 3) As my daily act of civil disobedience, as the packaging recommends drinking it straight from the can.
Can in hand, I grab myself a clean glass and give it a good water rinse. This will ensure that any detergent or fuzzies left from cleaning and polishing the glass are removed.
Next, I'll see if there is any sediment in the beer that I need to be wary of. Bottle conditioned beers will contain a small layer of yeast on the bottom of the package that you will typically want to leave out of your glass for optimum taste and clarity. Force carbonated beers (that is, everything other than bottle-conditioned ones) may contain some sediment as well. Sediment is the enemy of a handsome pour.
If you're dealing with a bottle, gently raise it to the light and see if there's any crud at the bottom. If you're dealing with a can, check the package for any indicator that suggests you need to be careful not to disturb sediment: it might say "can-conditioned" somewhere, or it may warn you in some other manner. The text on the back of my can of Heady Topper warns of hoppy sediment that should be decanted, so I'll be careful with this one. Not sure if you should be worried about sediment? Err on the side of caution.
Gently handling your beer as to avoid kicking up any of that bottom-dwelling gunk, begin your pour. I usually prefer to build a significant head early on, so I send the beer right down the center of the glass as it rests on the table. This is an aggressive approach: by not tilting the glass, the beer enters the vessel more quickly and hits the bottom straight on, which blasts more foam-inducing carbonation out of suspension from the beer. I find that developing head early on results in a longer-lasting, more stable foam when you're ready to drink.
If the head starts to get out of control, I pick up the glass and tilt it to ease the beer in more gently. Some prefer to start with a tilted glass, eventually bringing it upright to develop head and finish the pour. This method is quicker (less waiting for foam to settle), but your head will dissipate more quickly. The method you choose will likely vary based on the beer, glass, and the preference you develop through tons of practice.
Regardless of method, take your time with this step. As you begin a pour, the beer will have a tendency to glug out of the opening of your bottle or can. This causes unnecessary turbulence within that will rouse sediment and leave you with a cloudy, ugly pour.
About halfway through the pour, I like to give the quickly-forming head on my beer a chance to "set." Take a 10 to 15 second break to let the head stabilize. If you choose to go through this process, ensure that the bottle or can you're pouring from remains tilted. Bringing the package fully upright will, again, disturb the sediment that rests at its bottom. This is a great opportunity to pour into a second glass if you're sharing a bottle with others.
Now, you're ready to finish up. If you've been tilting your glass, bring it upright. Either way, continue pouring into the center of the glass, quickening or slowing your pace as to yield a glass-filling 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches of foam atop your beer. The head is important: you want a long-lasting, stable head to continually release aromatics as your sip your beer. Producing this head can be a bit of a balancing act that requires some practice, but the process yields a tasty result, so give it a few extra reps just to be sure.
Now, we've spent a lot of time bad-mouthing sediment, but what if you want that stuff in your beer? When drinking styles in which yeast inclusion and haze are seen as desirable, such as German wheat ales (hefeweizen and weizenbock, for example) and Belgian witbier, you'll want to get that sediment in suspension prior to pouring your beer. Gently roll the bottle on a table before opening and give the last few ounces of beer a swirl in the bottle or can as you finish your pour.
That's all there is to it. Get out there and practice, you show-off.
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