A proper pour

The art and techniques behind the perfect pint

Larry Morla, bartender at Clubhouse 56 Restaurant & Sports Bar, demonstrates his pouring skills.

Larry Morla, bartender at Clubhouse 56 Restaurant & Sports Bar, demonstrates his pouring skills.

photo by James Raia

Ciaran McDunphy has worked as a chef and sous chef in hotels, chain restaurants and at Heathrow Airport in London. He’s frequented his share of pubs as an employee and patron. He also knows a clean glass by its smell.

“I’ll go behind the bar and smell the glassware, and I’ll know if the machine is working properly,” says the Ireland native, who’s been the general manager of Clubhouse 56 Restaurant & Sports Bar in East Sacramento.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, and you will see a lot of bartenders doing that. Especially these days when you’re pouring like a $17 glass of scotch and the glass has that chemical smell. Well, the customer can say, ’I don’t like that.’ That’s an expensive pour out.”

Expensive spirits or a quick lunchtime pint, McDunphy knows the pub business is competitive. Pour a pint of beer properly—from a Guinness to a pilsner—and customers take note. Rush the process, and regular bar patrons undoubtedly notice. But start with a dirty glass, and you’ll likely get called out.

“If the dish machine is out of calibration, and there’s too much sanitizer, you’ll get a coating on the glass,” McDunphy says. “We get our dish machines calibrated. So, again, it’s another part of the package. It’s making sure the customer gets a good beer.”

McDunphy isn’t shy about testing his skill set. He doesn’t serve Guinness, but he knows well that it takes six minutes to pour because of its nitrogen-dominated carbonation. But pouring beer carbonated with carbon dioxide also requires care. He also isn’t one to serve beer in a chilled glass.

YouTube videos abound spout proper beer-pouring techniques, and not all agree on the best method. But Robin Shellman, a Certified Cicerone (the equivalent of a wine sommelier), echoes prevailing wisdom. As the founder of the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Better Beer Society, Shellman stresses the necessity for a skillful pour.

“Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and open the nozzle fully,” he explains in a short video called “Pouring A Proper Pint.”

When the glass is about halfway full, he advises to gradually tilt it upright and pour straight down the middle. If done correctly, the head of the beer will be about one to 1 1/2 inches. This method allows the carbonation to escape and release the beer’s aroma and flavors.

Larry Morla, a bartender at Clubhouse 56, adds other standard practices.

“You want to make sure the glass is cool and fresh,” Morla says. “You can spray it with water, so there’s less friction. Then I just run the draft for about a half-second so that you’re not pouring a foamy beer right away. Then you’re going to have a more natural pour.”

Good food, a pleasant atmosphere and lively banter can all help a pub’s success. But McDunphy knows the business.

“It comes down to a simple question,” he says. “Are the bartenders pouring the beer right?”