How to Pour a Pilsner
Most American bartenders pour beer incorrectly. At least, that's according to New York's new Czech-inspired beer bar Hospoda, where the staff is trained to generate proper foam, not avoid it. Hospoda even serves draft Pilsner Urquell (the original pilsner) four different and precise ways featuring different levels of suds. “When you have the proper head and the proper glass it can change the taste of the beer substantially,” says beverage director Steven Rhea. Here, he expounds on the benefits of foam, explains Hospoda's various pour styles and offers tips for beer drinkers at home.
The Crème. “This is the most common way to pour a beer anywhere in the world—except for some American bars it seems, which offer no foam on top. You should expect at least two to three fingers of foam, which opens up the beer,” says Rhea. To create the Crème, bartenders open up the tap just slightly, allowing a little bit of beer to come through the microscreens in the tap, exposing it to the air and creating a thick head. After a few seconds, bartenders move the glass up and open the tap completely, pouring the beer under the head at a 45-degree angle. “The head creates a barrier between the beer and oxygen so that the beer will taste less tainted.”
The Slice. “The Slice is symbolic of dragging your mug through the keg and coming up with mostly foam and a little bit of beer on the bottom.” According to Rhea, the style was popularized in the 1970s when Pilsner was advertised as the workingman’s beer. “It’s something in between, for the man who wants to be practical but also wants to enjoy himself. He doesn’t want to drink a big beer because that’s a lot of beer and he has something to do afterwards, but he doesn’t want to drink a small beer because that would diminish his masculinity. So he drinks a Slice.” The Slice is created similarly to the crème but the bartender allows more foam to come through. “I find the pleasure is more in the texture—you have this rich, creamy foam top. It’s just a little more satisfying,” Rhea says.
The Sweet. You won’t be able to find this pour in the Czech Republic; it’s a Hospoda original. Essentially, it’s a glass of foam (it's better than it sounds). Served only in a small size, the Sweet takes the longest of all the pours and is the most precise. “If you pour too slowly it will start to settle by the time you finish. If you pour too quickly it will settle because it’s not going through the microscreen slow enough to create that friction,” Rhea says. “It’s a fine science.” Customers are encouraged to drink the lightly sweet foam quickly. Rhea suggests drinking it as a toast or on Christmas Eve since it looks like snow.
The Neat. Also known as the chochtan, this is the style most commonly seen in the U.S. It has no head. “It’s done in the U.S. because people want to maximize how much beer they’re drinking,” Rhea says. “Generally it’s more bitter and less open. You won’t get the subtle aromas. It’s like drinking red wine from something really tiny or drinking whiskey out of an eyedropper.” That said, Rhea does like to pair the bitter style with a hearty dish like pork chops or steak. To pour a Neat, bartenders clear the lines by letting the tap run for a few seconds until the beer becomes clear, then slip the glass under the stream at a 45-degree angle. “You have to be gentle because any sort of sudden movement will create a head,” Rhea says.
How to Pour Beer (with Foam) at Home
1. Opt for a beer with some weight to it like a Belgian or a German Hefeweizen—or Pilsner Urquell. They hold the head longer.
2. Use a tulip glass or a wine glass. “But resist the urge to swirl the beer around in a wine glass, which makes it flat,” Rhea says.
3. Make sure your glass is dry and slightly chilled.
4. Pour at 45-degrees with vigor.
5. If no foam comes out, try swirling the beer around in the bottle before pouring. “That would be faking it,” Rhea says. But it would work.