You always know a serious Guinness drinker, the minute they walk in the door. First, their priority is not the people they’ve come to meet or where they’ll find a seat. Second, they won’t be too concerned about the surroundings, the bar’s decor or atmosphere. No, what they’re looking for is the state of the pint of Guinness.
They want to know how frequently the Guinness is being poured. They want to know the state of those pints, as in, how well are they being poured.
So let’s say, our man (or woman) walks into your bar. His eyes will sweep the room, table and bar level, although he’ll concentrate on the bar as this is where he (or she) would sit. Why? So they can keep an eye on the pour and the Guinness gets to them as quickly as possible and doesn’t sit around, waiting for someone to deliver it.
I poured my first pint of Guinness in 1966. I was 10 and it was in my uncle’s bar in Sligo town, Co Sligo. Back then, pouring a pint of draught Guinness was an even more complicated affair than it is today. The glass tilt (45°) remains the same. Back then, though, a pint was poured in three stages, compared with two, today. It was an elaborate process, watched with studied attention by my uncle’s regulars. I felt it was like a rite of passage. The second part of the process, then, brought the pour to the top, when the bartender would take a swipe and smooth the creamy head across the top of the glass. A further ‘settling’ ensued. The final ‘topping off’ brought the gleaming, creamy smooth head ‘proud’ of the glass, lending it a mildy elevated dome shape.
So here, according to Guinness Master Brewer, Fergal Murray, are the six stages of pouring a perfect pint of Guinness,
Step One: The Glass
“The bartender takes a dry, clean glass, which should be a 20-ounce tulip pint glass,” Murray says. “The internal aerodynamics of a tulip glass allows the nitrogen bubbles to flow down the sides of the glass, and the contour ‘bump’ in the middle pushes the bubbles back to the center on their way up.”
Step Two: The Angle
“The glass should be held at a 45-degree angle under the tap. The tap faucet should not touch the tulip glass or beer. If you just hold it straight under the faucet, you’ll get a big block of bubbles and a fish eye.”
Step Three: The Pour
“Let the beer flow nice and smoothly into the angled glass and fill it up three-quarters of the way.”
Step Four: The Head
“Let it settle. On the way through the faucet, the beer passes through a five-hole disk restrictor plate at a high speed, creating friction and bringing out nitrogen bubbles. The bubbles are agitated now — they can’t go back into the solution, so they flow down the interior sides and back up the middle — but they can’t escape. So they build this wonderful, creamy head on top. It’s like an architect building a strong foundation.”
Step Five: The Top-Off
“Once it settles, you want to fill up the glass and top it off. You allowed it to settle, you created a domed effect across the top of the pint, and now your head is looking proud over the glass. That’s the perfect vision of the perfect pint.”
Step Six: The First Sip
“You drink with your eyes first. The cosmetic look of the pint is critical to the Guinness experience. We don’t want anybody just putting liquid in a glass. And finally, drink responsibly.”
Now, all this might be dismissed as a whole load of marketing baloney but not if you drink Guinness, particularly in Dublin. Or Ireland. But you can get a bad pint, anywhere. In the end, it depends on the pour.
Take the three pints at the top of this article. The first one was poured in a pub in Roscommon, beside the Shannon river. The second was poured in a Dublin city centre pub, The Long Hall and the third and a ‘bad pour’, was slopped up in a pub that carries the name of the beer and brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness and stands on the corner of the same street where the famous black beer has been brewed for more than 200 years.
I could say, if you have to ask what’s wrong with it, you’ve no business drinking it or you’ve got what you deserve. But it isn’t what a true pint of Guinness deserves. This pint was poured in a hurry, not allowed to settle and then topped off, badly. Look at the head; it’s flat at the top of the glass.
Which brings us back, neatly, to our friend who walks into a bar scanning the pub for signs of pint pour activity. What’s he looking for?
New pints with good heads, plenty of them and a few, half drunk, that’s what. This will give him most of the information he needs, short of watching the pour, him (or her) self. And the half drunk pint? That can be the real giveaway because, y’see, as every pint drinker will tell you, a good pint, poured well, in the right glass, will hold its head intact for the length of the glass, leaving a trail of concentric circles of residue, right to the end of the glass.