As seasoned craft beer connoisseurs, we know that Summit Brewing Co. fans seek a nice head atop their pint glass. After all, foam is a critical part of the beer’s makeup. But, for many a knowledgeable drinker this wasn’t always a known fact.
While true a half glass of foam will still garner some side-eye, so too will a pint filled to the top with liquid.
So, what is exactly is foam and why is it so important to beer?
We’re glad you asked!
As with anything that foams, a beer’s creamy head is a result of nucleation – more simply: the creation of bubbles.
In beer specifically, these bubbles form when the gas from the fermentation process – carbon dioxide – experience a rapid drop in pressure from opening a can/bottle or being pushed from a tap line, and float to the top of their new container.
Again, in beer specifically, there is also a protein that is found in barley called Lipid Transfer Protein 1 (LTP1). This protein is very hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t mix well with water. Given this, the protein wraps itself around the bubbles from nucleation and creates a protective coating around them resulting in a longer-lasting head. As different beers have different levels of barley their heads will vary in thickness.
Wheat supplies more foam protein, so wheat beers will also have a thicker, heavier head. Also, many brewers will add a small amount of malted or raw wheat to all their recipes to enhance the foam as well.
According to Beer Connoisseur, some chemists have identified other proteins that interact with hop compounds that have similar effects.
While true beer is made up of just four ingredients – malts, hops, yeast and water – it is the specific combination of these that creates the numerous styles of beer we have today.
It is also the specific combination of these ingredients that creates the variety of foam we see on these varying styles.
Depending upon the makeup of a specific recipe, a beer may have a heavier head that fades quickly or a lighter head that lattices around the glass as its consumed. This foam retention also can be attributed to quality raw materials, excellent brewing techniques and good housekeeping (such as keeping draft lines clean and using properly washed beer glassware).
Using the science of nucleation and the art of recipe creation, each beer’s foam offers a specific experience for the drinker.
First, aesthetically its part of the presentation. The generally accepted look of beer is one that has a bit of foam at the top. While this can differ depending upon the region and the glass in which its served, beer is just doesn’t look like beer with a bit of foam.
Next, it’s critical to the aroma. Part of the craft of brewing is dedicating time to creating a beautiful bouquet on the beer. The head is critical to that. Smell is a huge part of tasting flavor, and foam brings more odor compounds to the surface, creating a fuller range of flavor for the drinker.
Foam also has a trigeminal sensation, which means the “taste” is perceived physically. A beer with a thick, creamy head could then be described as having a fuller mouthfeel. Or, one with a lighter foam could be more effervescent.
Last, a good head on a beer shows that sufficient carbonation has risen out of the liquid. What this means is that a consumer may feel less bloated after drinking it!
At Summit Brewing, we aim for all of our beers to have a nice head for each pour. We are one of the few breweries that naturally carbonate all of our beer, which means our foam will have smaller and more stable bubbles resulting in tighter, more stable foam.
But remember: foam is unique to its beer style, and every style is different. We encourage you to take more notice to your foam – next time you pour out a Summit beer take notice to what you see, smell and taste and how it impacts the experience. Prost!