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Beer 101: Pouring and Storing Beer

Pamper your brews and you’ll enjoy them even more. Follow our step-by-step instructions for the perfect pour, and keep your beer fresh and tasty with simple storage strategies

Like food, beer tastes best when you give it a little extra love and attention. If you keep it in the conditions it likes and pour it gently, your reward will be extra enjoyment of your fave brews.

And beer isn’t just art — it’s science. Beyond the obvious water and alcohol, our favourite beverage contains all sorts of interesting stuff, like proteins that bubble and froth when jostled, and volatile esters, which smell fruity when beer is fresh but change and diminish over time.

Storing beer properly protects these elements and ensures the flavour is fresh when you finally crack open the bottle or can. Careful pouring then puts those flavours and aromas front and centre to make the drinking experience even more enjoyable.

Here’s how to keep this complex brew in beautiful balance, from shelf to glass.

How to pour beer

If you’re into beer, you’ve probably spent some quality time staring lovingly into those sparkling bubbles. And in the early 1990s, so did a pair of Stanford University physicists, who decided to do some scientific sleuthing into what made them tick. Their verdict: “Once you begin to learn about the nature of beer bubbles, you will never again look at a glass of beer in quite the same way.”

Turns out, those teensy carbon dioxide bubbles (about 0.3 millimetre across, to be precise) do so much for us. Beyond making your brew attractive and appetizing, a healthy head of foam preserves the flavour of the liquid beer underneath. The bubbles also release aromas into the air, which helps you get a read on your drink before you even take a sip. Some cicerones (a.k.a. beer sommeliers) even believe a poorly poured brew can unsettle your stomach, so it pays to get it right!

Pouring a proper beer is simple once you get the hang of it. The steps below work for at least 95 per cent of the beers you’ll come across. Master this technique first, and then try out the exceptions.

The standard pour

The goal: Achieve a 1- to 1½-inch (2.5 to 4 cm) head on the top of the beer.

Step-by-step instructions

  • 1. Start with a clean glass. Rinse (but don’t dry) it under cool running water to clear away any dust or detergent residue, which can get in the way of a nice, fluffy finish. (Read “Make sure your glass is clean,” below, for details.)
  • 2. Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and pour.
  • 3. Starting about halfway through the pour, gradually adjust the angle of the glass upward as the head builds.
  • 4. Complete the pour with the glass in the vertical position. Enjoy!

Pro tip: Don’t worry if you end up with a few glasses that are too frothy (or flat) while you’re getting the technique down. And remember, some brews are more effervescent than others, which can make it trickier. Just keep practising!

Exception #1: Pouring nitro stouts and ales

Most beers get their effervescence from straight-up carbon dioxide. Nitro beers, on the other hand, contain a mix of dissolved nitrogen and carbon dioxide. When this combo encounters air, it creates a nice, frothy stream of bubbles. Nitrogen bubbles give beer a silky-smooth texture, but the trade-off is that the bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide ones, and can stick around longer.

If you follow the steps below for pouring canned and draft nitro beers, you’ll separate the beer into a proper (and fantastic-looking) two-texture drink.

The goal: Achieve a white, foamy head on top and refreshing liquid beer underneath.

Step-by-step instructions

  • 1. Start with a clean glass. Rinse it under cool running water, just as for a standard pour.
  • 2. If the can label tells you to invert or shake it, do so.
  • 3. Open the can and hold the glass at a 45-degree angle. Start pouring. Note: Some beer experts prefer to pour “hard,” which means holding the can vertically instead of at a 45-degree angle. Go ahead and try this if you like, but watch what you’re doing to avoid overflows.
  • 4. About three-quarters of the way through the pour, stop and place the glass on the counter. Wait for the head to settle and create a crisp, white line on top of the liquid beer. This takes around 30 seconds, though some prefer to wait even longer.
  • 5. Pour the rest of the beer into the glass. You can pour a little more vertically (or completely vertically) now, as you let the head build up to the desired level. Admire and have a sip.

Exception #2: Pouring pale wheat beers

Pale wheat beers are sometimes identified by their European names, including witbier (white beer) and hefeweizen. These beauties are often very frothy. The tradition is to go with the flow and serve them with big, fluffy, meringue-style heads (think three fingers high!). Many pale wheat beers are bottled without being filtered, or “on the lees,” which means the yeast is still in the bottle. When pouring, you can put on a little show of adding the yeast — just give the bottle a saucy swirl before you top up the suds.

The goal: Achieve a thick, frothy head on top with liquid beer underneath.

Step-by-step instructions

  • 1. Start with a clean glass. Rinse it under cool running water, just as for a standard pour.
  • 2. Hold the glass so that it’s nearly horizontal — try about a 30-degree angle.
  • 3. Stick the end of the bottle (or, rarely, can) into the glass and pour slowly, gradually tilting the glass upward as you go. You can even keep the neck or top of the container right in the beer if you like.
  • 4. About three-quarters of the way through the pour, stop, remove the container and place the glass on the counter. Wait a few seconds for the head to settle. If your brew is on the lees, consider swirling the bottle to mix the yeast back in.
  • 5. Pour the rest of the beer vertically into the glass to create a thick head. Cheers!
  • Make sure your glass is clean

    Before you pour, dip the glass into clear water, then turn upside down and let drain. If there are any traces of lipstick, soap, grease or oil on the surface, the water will break into streaks or drops. If the glass is clean, you’ll see a perfect, clear film cover the entire surface.

    Serve beer in a wet glass that’s been washed in a mild detergent and rinsed several times in warm water. To prime your glass for a rich head, rinse it in pure, cold water just before you pour.

How to store beer

Proper beer storage is all about keeping it fresh. This ensures your chosen brew will taste just as delicious when it hits your lips as it was when it left the brewery.

Standard storage

There are three things that could ruin your beer before you get to drink it: time, light and heat. Here’s how to protect your bottled and canned beer against spoilage.

  • If you don’t intend to serve it right away, beer should hang out in a cool or cold location. Your refrigerator or a cold cellar are ideal.
  • Store bottles and cans upright. When kept on their sides, bottles can develop a yeast ring inside the neck that will not settle when the beer is poured.
  • Keep brews in the dark. Ultraviolet light reacts with acids from the hops and can cause beer to develop a “skunky” smell.

If you keep your beer cans and bottles under these conditions, they will stay deliciously drinkable for about three months.

Exception: Draft beer

Keep draft beer refrigerated at all times to maintain freshness. Finish it within three weeks using your home draft setup.

Storage tips for aging beer

While many (if not most) beers taste best when fresh, others reward long-term storage — if it’s done right. And cellaring beer can be a lot of fun. You’ll find that, after a year, the beer has changed: hop flavours tend to fade into the background, while malt flavours become drier and more complex.

Want to try it? First, you have to select a beer. Generally, it’s wise to cellar beers that are 8% alcohol by volume or higher. These usually come from specific categories, including Belgian, English and other European-style ales, as well as porters and stouts. Take a pass on aging India pale ales (IPAs), because the hop flavours will fade over time and take away the bitterness that makes these suds special.

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