How To Pour Beer & Ale
Beer, my very favorite subject and my favorite drink. A huge part of your job as a bartender will be to open countless beer bottles and pour draft after draft from the kegs. You'll soon have just about every beer that your bar carries memorized so it's not important to try to remember the hundreds of stouts available worldwide. Just know the stock that your establishment carries and you'll be fine.
Pouring the perfect pint depends upon what type of beer you're trying to fill the glass with. Most dark beers or stouts require a very slow poor. A beer like Guinness requires extra attention as the head is so thick that you may have to pour a little, stop, and then continue. Aim for the side of the glass and pour evenly, taking your time. I know it's not always easy in a crowded bar. Often times a bartender will pour a bit, then work on another drink, and then finish the pour.
Ales or light beers are a bit easier. You can steepen the angle significantly when pouring. You want to pour quickly enough so that the beer develops a nice finger width head. If you try to pour an ale like a stout you'll pour what appears to be a flat beer. You want a nice head of foam on the top. This is something you'll get a feel for with practice.
Remember that pouring the perfect pint requires a perfect head to develop, usually around finger width, a bit more for dark beers. A good head on a beer is required in order to release its full character and reveal its rich aromas. Developing too much of a head can be equally bad in that it releases too much of the beers flavorful character right into the air. Remember that around a finger width is good for light ales, up to 1.5 inches for dark beers.
You don't need to know the entire history of beer production or memorize the exact process through which it is made in order to be a bartender, but you should know some basics. Beer is made through a four stage process, mashing, sparging, boiling, and fermentation.
Mashing which can require more than one stage, is simply the process of heating a mixture of water and starch. Heating the mixture allows the enzymes to break down dextrins into sugars that can be fermented. Simple beers made out of malted barley only require that this process be done one time. More complex beers require repeated heating and cooling.
The next phase in beer production is called sparging. This is where wort, a fermentable liquid is filtered out of the mash. Basically water is rinsed through the mash which extracts as much wort as possible. The remaining grain is normally discarded. This process can be repeated more than once to produce more batches, but each successive sparging results in a weaker beer.
The wort is now boiled in a large kettle which sterilizes the mixture and increases the sugar levels in the wort. Boiling also destroys remaining enzymes and causes water in the wort to evaporate. Boiling is the stage in which hops are added to give flavor and bitterness to the ale.
The final stage is fermentation and is the point at which the mixture actually turns into real beer. The mixture is cooled after which yeast is added. The yeast is left in the wort anywhere from a week to several months depending upon the type of beer being produced. The yeast allows the sugars present in the wort to transform into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Occasionally, a secondary fermentation is done in order to extend the shelf life of the beer.
Do you need to memorize the steps of beer production in order to become a good bartender? No, but I think it's interesting to at least know the basic process. One other item that you should know is that the starch used to produce beer defines its character. Malted grain is commonly used today in beer production. Other types of starch used is rice, oats, wheat, rye, corn, and even sorghum.
The type of yeast used is also of importance as it helps categorize beer. Fast acting yeasts typically produce ales, while slower acting yeast produces lagers. Dark beers are created by adding a darker malt which has been roasted longer. Occasionally a caramel color is added to further darken the beer. Guiness coincidently happens to be my favorite beer on the planet.
All this talk about beer has made me thirsty. It's Guiness time for me!