mark of a good beer

I was talking about the duomo in Orvieto, Italy… at least that’s how I remember the subject coming up… the stone striation of the façade. Alternating courses of white travertine marble and green-black basalt. And then coming into focus, right in front of me was my beer glass on the bar. The subjects couldn’t be more despairing but the designer saw a parallel. A little like the practice of Zen… lettering go of outward meaning… seeing fresh non-tangent connections. So why the picture of the beer with tick-marks?

The glass was almost empty of stout, but what remained were the rings of foam etched onto the inside of the glass. It was so distinctive. Do they tell a story or history of the beverage like the xylem of a tree? Is it a mark of quality? Does the phenomena have a name? The brew master wasn’t there and the bartender knew it had a term, but had forgotten what it was, but he knew it was a big deal… and lots of rings = a good beer.

The creamy-white “head” of foam, which rides to the top, is one of the most visually appealing aspects to a glass of beer. With a good beer the spectacle shouldn’t be lost as the foam “collapses” or as the glass is emptied, because a superior head of foam will deposit a generous lacy “cling” on the glass. But the cling is not a one trick pony… there are distinctions and standards. My photo may help illustrate:

A represents the Primary Cling. It’s the original head that forms after the initial dispensing of the beer. You’re in the hands of the server. The height of the foam doesn’t determine the success of the cling. So it could be anywhere from a 1/4 inch to a 1-1/2 inches depending on the beer and how the beer enters the glass. A beer that can achieve only a Primary Cling isn’t something to brag about.
B is the Secondary Cling. You’ve taken your first refreshing sip and the Primary Cling’s history is recorded like a flood-line. If your beer can achieve beyond the Secondary Cling you have a substantial beer on your hands… and you can go ahead and smile. beer_foam1
C You guessed it… this is the Third Cling. In this case it’s looking strong with high “Foam Strength”. FS is the ability of the beer foam to persist and to deposit a good cling under adverse conditions.
D This is the Fourth Cling. The FS is excellent. FS is compromised under “adverse conditions”. AC are defined as the presence of trace amounts of surface-active foam killers such as lard, soap, milk, detergents, butter, oils and greases in the drinking glass. So this glass is very clean and this beer has great FS.
E Just call it amazing.