The Greyhound in Colton is a quite typical British pub – not stereotyped, just typical. It’s set in a pretty, wooded village in Staffordshire where Cannock Chase begins to lip down into the vale of the Trent. The buildings are a crumbly redbrick and often stone edged; there’s a village school next to the Church which together, seem to be the focal point for the community. It’s even got a ford which must predate the little hump-backed bridge adjacent to it, where you enter the village from the west. Just like Emmerdale only with fewer flatcaps and boinging sheep.
It wasn’t a pub I went to that often; at the time, I lived a couple of villages away and driving was the only way to get there – at least, it was the only way to get back before 4am. But in the Summer it was always worth making the effort as the beer garden actually was a garden – it was out of the front of the pub, with flower beds in abundance, and the building itself was an end terrace. Leaning over the fence and chatting to the neighbours was probably what attracted the regulars.
This was the scene where I witnessed my first episode of ‘Head Rage’. The landlord had had the temerity to serve a customer a pint of Bonks’ with a head. It was possibly as deep as a whole centimetre.
Ranting. A tirade. Spitting feathers. Incandescent with rage. None of these phrases conjure up the ire that this particular gentleman was lobbing at the publican. ‘Short changing me’. ‘Robbing me of my beer’.
Calm down Dear. It’s only a 5mm head.
Robbing me of my beer.
You see, I am of the other persuasion. Where Bristolians zig, with their headless pints of ‘flat’ cask ale, I zag. I like a good head on my beer. More than this, I’m a double zagger, because I like more than normal head, but that’s because my head isn’t normal. The head is part of the beer. It wouldn’t be there without the rest.
I’m anchored to memories of awesome beers with towering stacks of cloud-like foam: in the Augustiner Hof in Munich at 11am eating weiss wurst and wiping the foam from a weissbier from my nose. Or pints of Boddington’s in the Lower Chequer where you wanted a spoon to finish off the last precious drops in the bottom of the glass. And the lacing, furled and curled down the sides of the glass, like Gandalf’s smoke rings puthering out into the air. I often ask for more head on my beer not less, in fact in a Vintage Inn the other week, this request so befuddled the waitress she seemed to turn into Marvin the Paranoid Android featuring a look of “Does. Not. Compute.” across her face the whole time we were there.
But you know, I’d never shout at anyone for not serving enough head on a beer, especially where it’s local tradition. I referenced Bristol earlier as a while back, I had a cracking pint of Bass there. If it had been served during ‘The Terrors’ of Paris during the French Revolution it would have had more head. I’m pretty sure that in Bristol, publicans have been strung up from the Clifton Suspension Bridge for even hinting at the use of a sparkler, but as with any place, find a good bar, you’ll get a good pint. In Devon, you get what I call a natural head. Just that thin layer that seems to suggest that the pint would be out of breath if it had to produce any more with the CO2 available. And Burton beer used to be like that too, but the sparkler has made inroads here in the last 10 years.
But this chap was bright red. He was jabbing at the sign that provocatively proclaimed that the head must be less than 5% of the total with a staccato insistency. And he was shouting. Sweating. Swearing. He was on the edge of losing control.
Good for beer I suppose, that it creates that level of passion, but for me, heads it is.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012