When Craig Cooper started in craft beer, at Limburg in Hawke’s Bay in the 1990s, brewer Chris O’Leary taught him how to pour a beer properly.
“During the Limburg era, Christ O’Leary shared with me very early on what he described as the perfect pour and it really resonated with me. His view was that you start the head by forming it in the base of the glass, and then you might tip the glass, or not. “But the head always starts when the beer hits the bottom of the glass.”
For most of us, we’ve been taught something different — to slide the beer down the side of the glass, slowly tipping the glass upright so that at the end there’s barely a head on the beer at all.
Cooper thinks this practice is rooted in our cultural past, the Six O’clock Swill era when everyone wanted volume and foam was considered a waste of space. I think it also has to do with the fights over price in the 1940s and 50s when beer was priced per fluid ounce, and drinkers would accuse bar staff of ripping them off by stepping up the pressure and pouring a beer with a big foaming head that filled the gap to the top of the glass. There was a separation in their minds that foam was not part of the “beer”.
Either way, we had generations of New Zealanders who learned to pour a beer without a decent head on it.
For Cooper, the enjoyment of beer “starts with the visual”. He’s adamant that includes “nice glassware” — not an old Marmite jar. He prefers a stemmed glass or failing that the right glass for the beer style.
Then there’s the “theatre” of the slow pour and “flowing from that is the colour — golden, amber, red, or pitch black — the bubbles, the effervescent and then this lovely head that crowns the beer”.
Getting the pour right determines how the beer looks.
There’s also the flavour to consider. Years ago, I did a workshop with a Heineken master-pourer Frank Evers and there was no doubt a well-poured beer tasted “better” than a badly-poured one — even with Heineken.
As Cooper notes from the years he lived in Amsterdam, Europeans never lost the technique that delivers a big, foamy head.
So when he stumbled across a YouTube video about an elaborate slow pour technique, “which is a slower version of the Chris O’Leary advice” he knew he had to make a beer for people to try out the technique: Slo-Pour Pils.
It requires some patience, but as Cooper points out, it’s “not inconsistent with what we know from Guinness, we accept that and think it’s pretty cool” he says of the time it takes to pour a proper pint of the black stuff.
“This video really resonated with me, and I thought ‘dammit let’s make a beer and call it Slo-Pour’.”
The instructions on the can are clear: Pour the beer directly into the glass so it hits the bottom with a splash until the huge head reaches the top of the glass. Let the big head settle and top up with more beer. Repeat until the can is empty and you have a dense rocky head on the glass.
All in all, it takes around seven minutes (here’s my sped-up version…)
“I don’t think anyone is realistically going to take seven minutes,” Cooper says, “but it draws people’s attention to thinking how they pour the beer and doing it better.”
The result? I felt the slow-poured version of Bach Slo-Pour Pilsner presented with a softer, creamier texture. It was more delicate. Potentially the bitterness was gentler and this might have to do with more CO2 coming out of solution and reducing the acidity.
Whatever the science, I was happy to take a few minutes for the experience and would recommend trying it.