Debate over perfect Guinness bubbles up again as barman says ‘little craft’ required

Guinness has long maintained that “good things come to those who wait” – with their elaborate two-part pour being essential for achieving the perfect head and flavour profile, not to mention the dome synonymous with a proper pint of the black stuff.

But an Irish barman has worked Guinness aficionados into a lather by insisting that there is no such thing as the perfect pour, and that there is “little craft in pulling the beer lever”.

Nate Brown, owner of Paloma Café, Soda & Friends and Nebula cocktail bars in London told FT Weekend Magazine that pouring Guinness in two stages “isn’t done for the beer’s sake; it was [done] to speed up serving the masses at home time – the brand has always had the savviest of marketing departments,” Brown said.

Yet scientists say there may be some benefits to waiting for the bubbles to settle before topping up the pint.

Based on his laboratory experiments, Dr Tomoaki Watamura at the University of Tokyo has said he believes that pints of Guinness may even benefit from being topped up repeatedly, rather than just twice, to adjust the liquid-foam ratio to the desired ratio. “Even with considerable technique, it is difficult to control the multi-scale [bubble dynamics], so it is better to repeat pouring many times,” he said.

The elaborate ritual of pulling a pint of Guinness may further enhance the drinking experience, regardless of whether people could tell the difference in a blind taste test, said Prof Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford. “Making it harder to acquire something, or having to wait can also add value to an experience,” he said.

Even Brown acknowledged that it was important for them to watch the “sacred dance [of] frothy white micro-bubbles falling faintly, cascading into the darkness”.

Guinness advises pouring its stout into a pint glass at a 45° angle until it is three-quarters full; allowing the bubbles to surge or cascade for precisely 1 minute and 32.5 seconds and finally topping the pint up by pushing the tap handle forwards, which limits the power of the flow.

This method stems from the addition of nitrogen to Guinness during the late 1950s. Before this bartenders would three-quarters fill a glass with relatively flat Guinness, before topping it up with a more frothy stout from a high-conditioned cask. The addition of nitrogen, which produces smaller bubbles than the carbon dioxide in standard beer, simplified the process.

Even so, small bubbles rise more slowly and are more affected by currents in the pint glass than larger bubbles, and so they need time to meet and coalesce to produce a more compact and even head.

“The pause not only allows the bubbles more time to do this, it allows the puller to assess the size of the head for the second step. If the bar is not overly busy, it also gives the puller a chance to shape a shamrock into the head in part two,” said Dr Andrew Alexander, a reader in chemical physics at the University of Edinburgh. “If you go at it all with abandon, you’ll end up with a head that is too thick, blobby and bulging over the top. Nobody wants that!”

Alexander, who has previously investigated whether the bubbles in Guinness really do travel downwards rather than being an optical illusion (spoiler alert: they do), said that the two-part pour may also affect a pint’s flavour.

He said: “In drinks like champagne, it is well known that the interaction of the bubbles with the tongue will influence the experience: both flavour and how it feels.

“I would say a compact and even head on a pint of Guinness, with small bubbles of a similar size, would taste and feel better. When taking a drink from a pint of Guinness, one naturally takes in some of the foam with the dark liquid underneath. So, I think the double pour would improve the experience.”

Prof William Lee, a mathematician at the University of Huddersfield, who has also studied the dynamics of Guinness bubbles, agreed that there may be good scientific reasons supporting the double pour.

“I can easily believe that in order to get the head of a pint just right you will have to wait for all the bubbles to settle into the head before finishing off the pint. This will take much longer in a pint of Guinness than in a pint of carbonated beer as the small bubbles will rise slowly and be dragged around by the currents in the glass. I wouldn’t like to try and put an exact time on this, but a minute or so does not sound unreasonable,” Lee said.

Savvy marketing it may be, but the adage that “good things come to those who wait” never rang truer.

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