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Stouts, especially beers like Guiness (its cousin Kilkenny as well), have a head that's really creamy. Being a stout lover myself, I always envied this head, but I have no idea how one can achieve it. What is so different about these beers' recipe that produces such an exceptional head? Can we achieve it at home?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Adding some wheat to the recipe can give some good body and head retention. There are a bunch of other methods as well. Check out this BrewWiki article on Head Retention. The main methods are:

  • The use of body and head enhancing malts such as crystal, wheat, or carafoam
  • The altering of the mash schedule to enhance head retaining proteins
  • The use of heading agents - additives that enhance head retention
  • Addition of high alpha hops - which will increase bitterness, but also increas isohumulones that enhance head retention
  • Limiting the use of household soaps on drinking glasses and homebrew equipment
  • The use of a nitrogen and CO2 mix for carbonation and serving
  • The shape of the glass used to serve the beer
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Actually the thing with Guiness (dry stout) is a large helping of flaked barley. That gives you head retention like wheat does. But flaked barley is just part of a normal dry stout recipe. – brewchez Apr 21 '10 at 22:13

In the pubs the creamy nead is achieved through the CO2/Nitrigen gas mix as mentioned already. It is also achieved by using a stout tap. A stout tap is similar in all respects to a regular tap, however the one significant difference is that inserted into the tap is a small disk that diffuses the beer through a number of small holes around the perimeter of the disk, this allows the beer to cascade through the disk, thus helping to make the creamy head.

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The other answers are good, but specifically for Guinness and Kilkenny it's the use of beer gas and the special restrictor stout faucet that creates the head. Sure, the flaked barley helps, but I've had a similar head from brews made just with 100% pale malt. – mdma Feb 9 '13 at 22:56

I seem to recall something about having to use a Nitrogen cannister instead of CO2 when you keg it. I have no idea how to do it if you bottle condition.

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Right. It's why cans of Guinness and Murphy's have that thing rattling around inside. – JackSmith Apr 21 '10 at 18:53
It's not nitrogen "instead" of CO2, it's a blend of about 75% nitrogen and 25% CO2. If you're kegging, there are blended tanks that you can buy to force carb the beer. You can't do it if you're bottle conditioning, but there are ways to bottle from the keg. – markskar Apr 22 '10 at 3:20

All the nitrogen does is allow the beer to be pushed at a higher pressure than CO2 would, since nitrogen is much less soluble than CO2. It's this higher pressure that contributes to the head and "creamy" mouthfeel, since the high pressure pour strips out much of the carbonation. Many years ago, before Guinness used nitro, the 6 packs came with a syringe. You'd suck up some beer and shoot it back into the glass in order to create the same effect. It's this high pressure pour, much moreso than any ingredients, that creates the classic head and mouthfeel of Guinness.

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Actually the higher pressure has nothing to do with it. Its the restriction through the fritted faucet that creates a huge amount of turbulence as the beer exits the faucet. Turbulence causes the poorly soluble N2 to come out of solution. The syringe does the same thing, create restriction. The high pressure is required at the faucet only to push the beer through the tightly restricted opening. – brewchez Jan 3 '11 at 14:59
I have to disagree here, Im afraid. I can achieve the same thing by simply upping the pressure on my kegs and using a cobra tap with no restriction. – Denny Conn Jan 3 '11 at 18:01

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