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Old 11-16-2012, 11:59 AM   #1
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Default Why are head and head retention desirable?

I had this discussion with my wife the other night, in describing the ingredients in a pale ale I made. I mentioned I had added 0.25 lbs of Carafoam for "head retention," and she asked why I would want my beer to have more, longer lasting head, and why enduring lacing on the glass was desirable.

In her mind, the less head, the better, because the foam just gets in the way of trying to drink the beer. When she pours a bottle of beer into a glass, she tries to produce as little foam as possible (none at all would be her idea of a "perfect pour").

I couldn't really give a good answer. The best I could offer was that a good head suggests the beer has good body, but I know there must be more to it than that.

Any opinions/answers?

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Old 11-16-2012, 12:15 PM   #2
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If you have to ask, you'll never know.

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Old 11-16-2012, 12:28 PM   #3
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I'm going to avoid both the smart-ass answer and the technical answer, since (a) everyone knows the first answer and (b) I don't know the second answer.

In general though, large amounts of head & good head retention are desirable on some beers but not on all--it's more a matter of adherence to style than anything else. For example, BJCP style guidelines call for little or no head on English bitters and milds due to their generally lower levels of carbonation, lower OGs and, in the case of milds, the use of adjuncts. However, it would be a shame to crack open a weizenbock and not see at least an inch and a half of beautiful, silky golden foam on top. It's really dependent on beer style more than anything else.

OK, now I want to go home and drink my weizenbock.

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Old 11-16-2012, 12:41 PM   #4
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Kombat, did you think about the thread title and the first line of this post at all? Thanks for cracking me up this morning.

Looks, smell, and mouthfeel. That's right, beers with good head feel better in your mouth.

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Old 11-16-2012, 12:46 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jerrodm View Post
For example, BJCP style guidelines call for little or no head on English bitters and milds due to their generally lower levels of carbonation, lower OGs and, in the case of milds, the use of adjuncts.
Many English Ales use adjuncts, not just milds. It's much less common in American made Ales, even English style ales that are brewed in the US.

Also, head retention isn't an indicator of body. Take Dry Stouts for example. These beers typically have a light body, corresponding to a low finishing gravity.

You can make this comparison yourself by pouring half a pale ale into a glass, then gently pouring half a dry stout into the glass via a spoon. The Stout will rest on top of the pale ale because it is lighter.

I never considered the head of a beer to be very important until I has Murphy's Stout, which uses a nitrogen widget. The bubbles in the stout were so fine that the head had the texture of cream, not just a creamy appearance. It carried the roast and caramel character with it. The head tasted significantly different from the stout itself, because of the creaminess.

Until you have a beer like that, you probably won't think much of the head.
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Old 11-16-2012, 01:33 PM   #6
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Not sure if it's worth rebutting, but these are quotes from BJCP's guidelines, for milds and bitters, respectively:

Appearance: Copper to dark brown or mahogany color. A few paler examples (medium amber to light brown) exist. Generally clear, although is traditionally unfiltered. Low to moderate off-white to tan head. Retention may be poor due to low carbonation, adjunct use and low gravity.

Appearance: Light yellow to light copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.

Which I think are exactly the points I made in my previous post. I don't think I ever implied that ONLY milds use adjuncts, or that ALL beers with light bodies necessarily have poor head retention. My point was that some styles, for various reasons, tend to have lower head retention, and that's not a bad thing. If you feel like arguing, you'll have to do so with the BJCP guideline makers, not me.

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Old 11-16-2012, 01:53 PM   #7
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Here's a great podcast about foam and head retention from one of the best experts around...
http://beersmith.com/blog/2011/09/28...th-podcast-23/

I highly recommend you listening to it, it's full of information, and most of it regarding your question.

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Old 11-16-2012, 02:05 PM   #8
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The head is formed from protiens in solution but driven by carbonation as I understand it.
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Old 11-16-2012, 02:29 PM   #9
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I've never understood the craze about it either. Obviously I don't want a beer that pours with zero head, just looks and feels unnatural, but I personally pour to minimize head on most beers. See, for something like my pumpkin ale I pour to get about a half inch head because the head will carry more of the aroma. For a lot of other beers I'll pour for just a 1/4" head.

Lacing however I love, don't know why but I love it. Looks great, and a lot of times I've seemed to denote a fresher taste - though that can very well all be psychosomatic. But heads like they pour in Germany are a turn off for me. I don't want a 3" head on my beer, I want to drink beer not foam!

I guess the aroma carrying aspect might be one strong reason people like a good head on their beer.


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Old 11-16-2012, 02:31 PM   #10
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The BJCP doesn't call for some English beers to have little or head, only that it should not be considered a flaw.

Other than a nice head looks great on most beers, I could care less. I've had many great tasting beer with little to no head.

It's a nice thing to have on highly hopped ales, and it can increase the amount of aroma in many beers. There are lots of beers that are to style that have either very little head, or a head that dissipates rapidly.

The best way to know is to read the BJPC guidelines. But other than for competitions, it's a personal choice. If you like the look and smell of a beer without it, and it tastes great, then no worries.

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