The Great Beer Mystery

I was just reminded again of a mysterious thing in Yokohama, that some readers may be able to help with. One of the first nights we were in Yokohama, I went up to the bar on the 70th floor, just to see what it was like. I was neither cool enough nor rich enough to really be there, but they let me sit at the bar and listen to the jazz band they had playing.

When I sat down, I asked the bartender what sort of draft beer they had, and he said “Budweiser.” I said “I see a tap over there that says “Guinness,” so bring me a Guinness.”

Then I watched him go to a cooler, take out a bottle, and pour a completely flat glass of Guinness. Which he took down to the other end of the bar, and didn’t bring back for a few minutes. When he did come back, it had a very nice head on it– you could’ve used it for an ad shoot.

Well, I was baffled by this. So, of course, I ordered another, to see what was going on. Actually, I got two more, and I’m still not sure…

After pouring the beer from the bottle into a pint glass, they would take it over to what looked like a tap, and set it down on a little platform. Then they would walk away, and the beer would foam up– the whole glass would fill with bubbles, as if you had just filled it from an over-pressured tap. Then, slowly, the foam would settle down into a very nice head, at which point somebody would retreive the glass, and bring it to me.

I have no idea what was going on there. They didn’t put anything into the glass, and the pseudo-tap thing didn’t even extend over the area where they put the glass. They just set it on a platform, and stuff happened.

So, does anybody know what the deal is? I wasn’t hallucinating this, or at least I’m not the only one who hallucinated it, because I mentioned it to some Aussies a few nights later, and they had seen the same thing at a different bar. and, like me, ordered several more rounds in the interest of science, without a definitive answer.

I’d really love to know what the trick is. So, if you have any ideas, leave them in the comments.


  1. #1 Jason
    September 24, 2007

    From Wikipedia:

    In March 2006, Guinness introduced the “surger” in Great Britain. The surger is a plate-like electrical device meant for the home. It sends ultrasonic waves through a Guinness-filled pint glass to recreate the beer’s famous “surge and settle” effect. The device works in conjunction with special cans of surger-ready Guinness. Guinness tried out a primitive version of this system in 1977 in New York. The idea was abandoned until 2003, when it began testing the surger in Japanese bars, most of which are too small to accommodate traditional keg-and-tap systems. Since then, the surger has been introduced to bars in Paris, but there is no intention of making it available to the French public. Surgers are also in use in Athens, Greece.

  2. #2 cg
    September 24, 2007

    This sounds like something out of Iron Chef.

    What in the world would make the beer “surger ready?” Would it have to have extra gas dissolved in the beer? Dissolved solids that are agitated and release gas?

    More importantly, in addition to looking like a Guinness – did it have the same taste and effect?

  3. #3 mollishka
    September 24, 2007

    What can’t ultrasonic waves do?!

    Here’s to drinking in the name of science.

  4. #4 John Novak
    September 24, 2007

    Ah, that makes me feel smart. I had it pegged as an ultrasonic effect, and now I don’t even have to go looking for confirmation.

  5. #5 Michael
    September 24, 2007

    I was in Dublin just a few weeks ago and toured the Guinness brewery, yet oddly they never mentioned this gadget. A little work with Google turned up a review at The video at the bottom of the page shows what happens when the device is used on Guinness that isn’t “surger ready”. Perhaps the surger-special Guinness has less intense foam stabilizers.

  6. #6 Russ
    September 24, 2007

    I had the same experience in Japan last year. Me and my friends frequented this great restaurant in Noda-shi called Tokiwa’s. For the first three days I thought that they were out of Guinness draft; hence the bottles. Then one night, I sat down right in front of the “tap” and noticed my beer foaming up when placed on the tab.

    Not being a great fan of Kirin-Ichiban (the local fave), and Guinness being the only beer they had that was Commonwealth, I had drunk the owner out his entire stock by the end of my stay.

  7. #7 milkshake
    September 24, 2007

    The fine foam of Guiness draught is quite hard to produce from a bottle – the workaround has been the widget added to Guiness cans and bottles. Unlike normal beer, the gas in Guiness bottle widget contains a mix of compressed CO2 with significant amount of nitrogen – the resulting foam is creamier than if it was a regular carbonation.

    My guess is that the surged beer was without the widget.

    There is one more secret to Guiness taste – unlike other somilar draught beers (Murphys, etc.) Guiness lets a small portion of their beer to go sour (lactic fermentation) and they add it back to the unsoured Guiness, in about 1:20 ratio.

  8. #8 Andrew
    September 24, 2007

    This has been used in Australia for some time. The cool thing is to watch the direction some of the bubbles post-surge…

  9. #9 Jason
    September 25, 2007

    Andrew, if you’re referring to the ‘bubbles going downwards’ effect*, the effect has been studied by Andrew Alexander of the uni. of Edinburgh – first link I found mentioning it is here:

    this may be better:

    basically, the column of bubbles in the centre of the glass is powerful enough to create circulation which makes the bubbles in the exterior layer move downwards, assisted by drag from the glass surface. It happens in pretty much any Guinness, not just surged.

    * couldn’t think of a better term. anyone?

  10. #10 csrster
    September 25, 2007

    I, for one, welcome our new Irish overlords.

  11. #11 carolyne
    September 25, 2007

    Brilliant, indeed :)

    I’ll have to ask my fiance about this– we’re both big Guinness fans, and he often travels to Japan on business. I’m rather surprised this hasn’t come up in conversation before!

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