THE ICEMAN POUR
There’s a beer trend that has been growing within craft beer circles that has a lot of people intrigued and others riled. It is called the Iceman Pour.
The serve, which is also sometimes called the Boss Pour, involves the beer glass being filled completely up to the brim with absolutely no head on top, creating what many would deem to be an aesthetic that is not just impractical to drink, but also without aroma from the beer’s foam.
The beers selected for this treatment are often shown off for their haze or ‘murk’ and referred to as “juicy”. They are then shown off on social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter with the can or bottle alongside with a tasting note accompanied by a few hashtags to illustrate the pourer’s artful glee and defiant desire to be different. #icemanpour #bosspour #hazersgunnahaze #hazefordays #beersnob #properglasswear #hazecraze #juicebomb
What it teaches us – social media and the power of aesthetics
Without getting too caught up in whether or not this is right or wrong, let’s just take a moment to assess why the trend has emerged. After all, understanding such trends, especially when they are consumer-led, can help identify what makes them appealing and also how differing serves become adopted.
Social media has turned many consumables into a mode where they can exist purely as an aesthetic. Food, drinks, desirable items can be made increasingly attractive to a wide audience using filters, flatlays and all sorts of tweetable and ‘grammable techniques. For beer, once celebrated for its desirability on a hot day luring people to pub gardens, its evolution into attractive cans has pushed it into an edgy pictorial realm. Certain curated visual trends are impactful for their representation of perfection. This is, to a degree, what has happened here with the Iceman and its trusty sidekick can of craft beer.
What it teaches us – miseducation about beer
What is clear about this trend is that by simply aligning the word “snob” and “geek” alongside the word “beer” there is a subliminal suggestion that the poster has a handle on his/her beer knowledge. Sadly, the power of social media can render pretty much anyone who self-applies this kind of righteous moniker as a knowledgeable expert. This is not new though, for years enthusiasts have been adapting drinks and supported favoured serves. CAMRA has, over the years, built a formidable and sometimes controversial reputation for what its members discredit as ‘real ale’ based on its mode of serve and as such has been criticised for sometimes being too narrow.
“The trend on Twitter and Instagram where craft people have poured a beer so there’s absolutely no head on it and it just completely fills the glass. Well, some old CAMRA drinkers have been doing that for a lot longer and ruining beer too. You get a lot of these CAMRA stalwart types who just want a complete pint and, if part of their pint is foam, they get annoyed about it. What they don’t understand is that the foam is part of the beer,” says Mark Tranter, head brewer and founder of Burning Sky Brewery.
Tranter, when pondering the Iceman Pour, describes it as “ridiculous” and asks “who wants to drink an insipid pool of beer with no head on it?” But there clearly are fans out there, even if they are not in the beer industry.
It serves us well to remember that “in the UK, draught beer can be served in pints, half pints, or third of a pint measures” and, from a pub perspective, “technically, a server is allowed to put a maximum head size of 5% froth on the beer. But if a drinker demands the glass is topped up to a full measure, the server is legally obliged to do so,” says beer sommelier and freelancer beer trainer, consultant and writer Annabel Smith. The topic of taste and preference for a certain serve such as this is “black and white” because people always have opposing views based on what they like and consider to be right, she reminds.
Smith says that, unfortunately, when if comes to people’s miseducation of beer – sometimes the first bite is with the eye and as such “there is a big misconception” about what well-conditioned beer looks like and “our first evaluation of how a beer will taste comes with how it looks.”
Smith points out that “what causes a head to collapse, or not form at all could be a number of reasons. Brewers have spent centuries studying foam formation and head retention, and it’s what differentiates beer from other carbonated drinks,” and this amount of time and dedication or understanding is not exactly being re-translated back to the consumer. As a result, we get trends like this.
What it teaches us – we are witnessing the sexualisation of beer
Social media has made the word “porn” a suffix of food and drink items in pictorial form and is now frequently used to describe images of commodities that are desirable, cool or sexy. Going one stage further, a recent hashtag attributing itself to the Iceman Pour is #SaveHeadForTheBedroom which deliberately satirises the standard beer pour with a double entendre which is both provocative and overtly sexual. This does not degrade beer’s identity as such, but it does align beer with a certain seediness and new kind of desirability.
This has also begun to happen with craft beer fans adulation of tap walls where brewery taprooms and bars now housing an (often railway tiled) array of beer taps are also being photographed and shared on social media for their sheer beauty. By changing the perception of beer as old fashioned, these kinds of connections make beer somewhat more covetable to a new audience of people looking for enviable new drinks to splash across their feed.
But is the Ice Man Pour a credible serve?
“How you like your beer poured is entirely up to you. Not the brewer, not the server – you. If you like a deep creamy head, that’s your choice. If you want a brimful glass with a looser, frothier head, again it’s your choice. If you want no head at all – you get the picture,” says Smith.
It also shows, to some degree, how once a drink becomes adapted, customised and personalised it is proof that the imbiber is doing it purposefully. People don’t tend to adjust recipes and recreate them again and again with their own spin on them unless they are enthusiastic about food and want to experiment. As we know, experimentation – or staying open to new ideas is the beginning of any new drinks innovation. You certainly don’t have to like something to assess it and understand the positive benefits of its existence.
“I’ve heard of the iceman. I quite like it, if only because is annoys the angry beer geeks,” says Yeastie Boys co-founder Stu McKinlay. “Of course, I like a nice big head with all the aromatics that comes with it. But, most of all, I like to see people having fun with beer. We can all take things too seriously, sometimes, forgetting that we are in the entertainment business. I like to see people blending beers, making cocktails with them, and having fun in whatever way they see fit. Once they’ve purchased it, it becomes their beer to do whatever they want with it. We can educate the consumer all we want but we should never be so arrogant as to think that we can’t learn from them too.”
Just like that word “craft” market saturation of any trend breeds fatigue. People begin to take ownership of what they like and adapt it to suit their own preferences. Some of these predilections catch on and the traction involved with this leads to them becoming favourites and then trends and perhaps movements in their own right. Then, somewhere along the line, marketing budgets help propel them. Repeat to fade.
One thing that is interestingly appropriate about the Iceman is its name. Just look at the characterisation of the Iceman – an original X-Men superhero who is the architect of slick cold structures as well as the only one who can dissolve them – and consider the pour as a skill that many would not be able to fully master. Similarly, look at the upheld perfection of the serve completely at odds with the impracticality of drinking it and consider the Eugene O’Neill play ‘The Iceman Cometh’ where the dissolution of pipe dreams is the over-arching theme. The finale reminds that people need their empty dreams to keep existing. Can we really begrudge that, if all it takes is some beer in a glass? Especially when the glass is optimistically full.