Solutions for Poor Head Retention

german beer girlsPresentation is an important part of beer quality.  When judging at a BJCP competition, judges are asked to score and comment on “appearance,” which includes color, clarity and head.  The amount of head on a beer and how well it retains that head is an important quality.  While clearly not as important as how the beer tastes, to have a truly wonderful beer, you need to know how to create a frothy foamy head (depending on the style of beer).

But how can you, as the brewer, know and control how much head a beer has?  Some think it’s just the amount of carbonation.  Sure, more highly carbonated beers have the potential to crate a larger head, and under-carbonated and flat beers likely will not have any head.  But for the perfectly carbonated beer, you need to know what factors are at play to create the amount of long-lasting froth that is desired.

Below are some of the key tips for creating a beer with good head retention:

Stear clear of the soap

Household detergents and soaps have head-killing agents in them.  Make sure that your brewing equipment as well as your bottles and beer glasses and drinkware are all cleaned with beer-friendly cleaners.  You can clean and sanitize bottles and glasses in the dishwasher, but just do it without detergent.  The steam will sanitize them just fine, but detergent will leave a small film that will deter head creation and retention.

Malt Selection

Ever wonder why wheat beers have such fluffy large layers of foam on top that lasts until the last sip?  Wheat is high in protein, and due to the higher percentage of wheat malt used, wheat beers have more proteins in them which lend to greater head creation and retention.

Using flaked grains like wheat or flaked barley will increase head retention but will result in a cloudier beer.  Other crystal/caramel grains that are high in protein or dextrine will also help you create the perfect head.  Even small amounts of the lighter crystal or cara malts, such as carapils (also know as dextrine malt) will greatly increase your head retention potential.  But you don’t always need to add extra carapils.  If the recipe already has a healthy dose of crystal/caramel malts, or flaked barley, wheat or rye, then an extra addition is probably not needed.

Mash High

If your goal is great head retention, then you may want to avoid a protein rest (122-140 degrees F) as this will break down the  heavier proteins desired for good head.  To get the most head, consider a single step infusion mash at the higher end of scale (156-158 degrees).  This will result in a fuller bodied beer with more proteins available to assist in head creation and retention.

Beer Gas

stout faucet

If you’ve ever had a Guinness on draught, you know that it has the thickest, creamiest, longest-lasting head around.  This is largely due to the use of a beergas that is between 70 and 75% nitrogen, and only 25-30% carbon dioxide.  The beer is kept at a higher pressure because the nitrogen does not mix into the beer, so it still maintains a proper carbonation.  When pushed through the tap at this higher pressure, the nitrogen escapes, forming lots of tiny bubbles and the perfect base for a great head.

You can install a beergas system at home.  It works just like a regular 100% Co2 system, except that you will need a specialized stout faucet with a restrictor disc to really create that perfect pour.

Serving Glass Selection

The glass you pour your beer into will also affect the head creation.  Friction with the glass and the turbulence that is created will help build a good head, and then the shape of the glass can also support head retention.  Tall skinny glasses, like you usually see with wit beers, hefeweizens or pilsners are great for head retention, where as shorter fatter glasses are not.

So there you have it, a few easy tips to get you well on your way to creating beer with the perfect head on them.  Now, if you could only brew a beer that also tasted good…