Is a frothy head a beer essential or a short measure on the sly? Do lagers require the same care and attention as a well-kept real ale?
Wouldn't it be nice to feel like someone was "really spoiling you" when you ordered a pint of beer? Such a feeling may not be far off. A well-known lager brand is introducing the Heineken Ambassador. Its beery diplomats will not just be charged with "creating excitement around the brand" (which, let's face it, translates from marketing-speak into English as "hype to the heavens" because mainstream lager is hardly known for its unusual, exquisite flavour): their duties will include visiting pubs and bars to train bar staff how to serve the beer perfectly. Which sounds like a rather good idea that other beers could definitely benefit from.
Of course Heineken is not the first to try to make a virtue of pouring beer in a reverential manner. From the Stella Artois nine-point serving ritual (pdf) on to the Pilsner Urquell pouring contest, and of course Guinness, which takes so long to pour properly that a dance routine had to be created to occupy drinkers while they wait. The implication of all of these things is simple but clever: what's worth having is worth waiting for, hence the importance of a properly poured beer. No bartender worth his or her salt would dare insult drinkers of these brews by slopping their beer into a glass in 10 seconds flat, liquid dripping down the sides. No. These are beers that must be poured with care and are therefore worth savouring - and with Guinness the bartender would even make time to draw a little shamrock in the head of it for you.
Not so most pints of cask ale. It's more usually a swift, tug, tug, tug on the handpump, froth and liquid in, but also down the side of, any old glass which is slammed on the bar. Depending on where you're drinking you might not even be sure you're getting your money's worth because unlike a pint of the black stuff the old arguments (pdf) about whether a foaming head is actually part of the pint or the bartender's way of rooking you out of an inch of beer rumble on.
In the north of the country pints come with a head and no one bats an eyelid, but down south you'd be forgiven for thinking we're all penny-pinching alcoholics as we demand, obnoxiously, that it be "topped up".
Given that a well poured pint served with some apparent ritual is said to encourage customers to purchase more beer you'd think every pub in the country would be falling over itself to make beer look like something everyone wants to drink. Cask ale and the new generation of keg beers need to catch up with the game. As many brewers will tell you they're not just churning out generic malty drinks. They are making a quality product that can demonstrate much sought-after provenance and they believe it should be served with reverence and respect for the skill and passion that went into making it.
I agree, but what do you reckon? Does it all go down the same way or is the look of a good pint as important as the taste? And crucially, where do you stand on the question of a good frothy head?
A bartender pours a pint of lager at The Knights Templar public house in London. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images