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Behind the Bar: Why Foam Matters

With draft beer poised for its comeback, Greg Engert of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group makes the case for foam and its importance to the kinds of drinking experiences that keep customers coming back for more.

Greg Engert May 12, 2021 - 8 min read

Behind the Bar: Why Foam Matters Primary Image

Photos: Courtesy Neighborhood Restaurant Group

I love foam. I love to see a dense, rocky head rise up the glass and precariously stack up above and nearly over the rim without spilling. I love to watch dozens of tiny bubbles effortlessly tote intrinsic flavors upward and into that foamy net where they can patiently wait to aromatically explode. I love that first long sip when all of my attention shifts to the alluring textural interplay of bubbles and liquid that is, to me, so quintessential to the enjoyment of drinking beer.

Sadly, foam has been fleeting over the years. In place of precise pouring into proper glassware, we’ve become can-crazy, focusing on that package for the holding, promoting, selling, trading, and ultimately dispensing—more often than not—only a few photogenic styles of beer. If there is a glass involved in this show, it’s typically for the now ubiquitous “boss pour,” which trades tulips and snifters for Tekus (or even the occasional vase or fishbowl), leaving only the thinnest veneer of foam on top. When it comes to consumption, glassware has become an afterthought—and not just for the consumer. Not long ago, a journalist friend nearly scrapped a story on glassware because she just couldn’t find enough brewers and publicans captivated by the subject.

Before Instagram, before taproom can releases, before direct-to-consumer shipping, and even before serious wholesaler interest in craft beer—it really wasn’t that long ago—independent American brewers looked to historic brewing traditions and their service techniques to produce and showcase their wares on premise. Typically, this was via fresh draft beer sold over the bar, in ways that best communicated the full flavor intentions. These intentions covered the full spectrum of flavor, from aroma and taste to appearance and texture.

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Greg Engert is beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whose bars and restaurants include ChurchKey, Rustico, and the Bluejacket brewery, among others.