It is more than a question of appearance: the creaminess accentuates the nutty, malty flavour typical in some northern ales, but arguably detracts from the hoppy dryness of the southern style.
With the heavy advertising of northern brews like Tetley's and Boddington's, creamy beer has been gaining ground. About 50 northern pubs have begun to serve the famously dry London bitter Young's through a tight nozzle, known as a sparkler, to provide a creamy head.
Even some London pubs are doing it. For some years the Thatched House, in Hammersmith, attracted customers from far and wide with its creamy Young's. Then, early one morning, two representatives from Young's came and removed the sparklers from the pumps.
One customer, Chris Charlesworth, a Yorkshireman, pronounced himself 'dismayed and appalled'. Another regular, identified as Barry the Bus Driver, characterised it as 'a dawn raid'. 'They have denied customer choice,' asserted another, Paddy Loyd.
Over the weekend, more than 300 customers signed a petition demanding a return of the creamy beer. Yesterday, the petition was presented to Young's managing director, Pat Read.
'We feel that our beer tastes best without sparklers,' Mr Read said. 'By removing the natural sparkle from the beer and putting it into the head, you alter the flavour. Some of our pubs had sparklers, and we decided to remove them. We cannot always going round consulting our customers on matters like this, but feeling is clearly strong at this pub.'
Within hours of the protests, compromise was reached: half the pumps in the pubs will have sparklers, the others will not.
To the questions, 'ordinary or special? straight glass or handle?', bartenders may yet have to add: 'creamy or flat?'