Where’s Your Head At?

The UK pint. 568ml of pure unadulterated joy. Or is it? Whilst the liquid in our glasses unites us, it divides us at the same time. The culprit behind this perfect paradox? That lovely white foam sitting atop your pint, or head as it’s colloquially known. 

A result of residual proteins, yeast and hop matter, the foam atop a pint is like it’s crowning glory. Its seal of approval if you will. It gives beer character and, particularly on cask, gives it a smooth and creamy body. Everyone wants that right? Well, it would appear not…

Southerners have always championed un-sparkled beer, with Northerners defending it to the hilt. The sparkler being what gives beer its creamy head, by forcing the beer through small holes as it’s served into the glass. Recently, however, I’ve started to see even Northerners start to question how much head is on their pint. But why? 

CAMRA recently asked for governmental support, ensuring that when a customer asks for a pint, that’s exactly what they receive. Not 90% beer and 10% head, or even 95% and 5% respectively. They’re championing 100% liquid every time, with customers within their rights to ask for a top-up if required. It seems they may have heard the message. 

Enough, not enough or too much?

Current guidance states that a pint should be no more than 5% head, and is acceptable if served as such. However, there’s no real recourse if a customer requests a top-up and the establishment refuses to do so. This is what CAMRA is trying to change, however, their press release raised more criticism than praise. 

Being honest, their wording completely missed the mark. Their letter read like they were promoting beer with no head, no life and no character. 100% beer, served the Southern way. But, looking at their historical campaigns, this has been a long-term issue for the group, with them asking for over-sized glasses to become standardised. A glass with room for a full pint of liquid, and space for foam if requested. That would solve the problem surely? Well, not quite.

Their intentions may be good, ensuring every customer gets what they paid for; a full pint. But it isn’t that easy for the establishments across the UK. With new glassware comes added costs, something they can ill afford right now. And, given their recent stance on supporting the industry, it’s unlikely the government will offer any support should they change current legislation or rulings. We’re all for value for money, and making sure everyone gets a quality pint, but surely we can accept5% worth of head on our beer? We aren’t penny pinching that far just yet, surely? 

Well, we’ve been here before, it isn’t unfamiliar territory. When pints were pulled using taps that measured pours accurately, glasses had space for a head above the 568ml measure. But, speaking purely from anecdotal experience, customers thought they were being short changed even then. “Where’s the rest of it?,” they would ask when presented with, what they perceived as, a short measure. Or they’d accept it begrudgingly, tut and walk away shaking their head before sitting down and mumbling into their ‘pint’. 

Want a flake with that?

As is usually the case, the establishment can’t win. They’re in a lose-lose situation; the customer feels like they’re being shortchanged either way. Education only goes so far and, as we’ve seen recently, people are unwilling to accept anything without conducting their own research first. Trust is hard to come by these days, and heaven forbid your glass contains 539ml, not 568. 

Just when things looked bleak in our industry, with businesses closing on a daily basis, they suddenly look even bleaker. Rather than flocking to our favourite drinking spots, and sipping loyally, we’re questioning their integrity and criticising their quality. It’s no wonder some  are struggling when the best we can do is drag them, and the beers they serve, through the mud rather than putting them on a pedestal.  

For me, I’ll continue to gaze lovingly at the lacing left behind from a tightly formed head on my next pint. For those that know, will appreciate what head does for beer and continue to rejoice when they see a sparkler attached to a hand pull. After all, it’s the Northern way, and if one thing Northerners know, it’s their beer…  

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