Among beer's many complexities is a matrix of proteins that are responsible for the creation of its foamy head, which is important because beer first communicates with us by its aroma. The head is formed as the carbon dioxide bubbles burst through the beer, bringing aromatic compounds to the surface. This is the moment that beer essentially achieves its realization, and we absolutely do not want thin films of oil, soap or rinsing agents spoiling this magical moment by not allowing the head to form.
If your beer appears in front of you flat and headless, politely ask your bartender to try again but with a thoroughly rinsed glass, as the most likely culprit is either rinsing agent from a dishwasher or sanitizer from the bar sink.
What about the serving temperature of beer? Granted, some beer should be served cold and macro-lagers should be served at darned-near freezing. But with beer that delivers flavor along with its alcohol and fizz, serving it too cold won't allow that flavor to come through.
Craft lager should be served around 45 degrees and craft ale around 55 degrees for best flavor. The macro lager industry in the U.S. has set the standards for beer storage, so most American bar refrigeration and draft equipment is designed to serve beer at 38 degrees.
I always ask that my craft beer be served in a room-temperature glass. If that doesn't do the job, maybe the glass can be warmed under hot water. This will take some of the chill from the beer. If the beer is bottled, ask the bartender to take one out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit for later.
This temperature disparity between macro-lager standards and craft-beer standards is being addressed by a special technical committee at the brewers association. It plans to release separate standards for storage and service of craft beer. The standard will address temperature, line-cleaning regimes and proper delivery pressures - all being critical in delivering maximum flavor and drinking pleasure.
If you manage to find or achieve all three of the above fundamentals of the "perfect pint," you are well on your way to beer Nirvana. The journey may challenge you, transforming you from a go-with-the-flow patron to one who puts bartenders on their toes.
Remind yourself that you are the customer, shelling out 6 bucks plus a nice tip for that so-called pint of beer. That beer was brewed to be served a certain way, and it's that way you are seeking. Any craft-beer bar worth its salt should understand your search for the "perfect pint," or it should just go back to being another faceless macro-lager beer joint or sports bar.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.