Critical Drinking

Surface Tension: The Probably Untrue Story of the Iceman Pour

As children, we’re taught the world is a scary place, learning life lessons with the understanding that we can be surrounded by threats. We are to move in a calm, orderly fashion toward exits in case of fire. It’s important to wait for traffic signals and hold hands when crossing a busy street. Look out for Stranger Danger. 

But our modern society also poses problems in the digital realm where kids are told it’s sometimes best to ask a parent’s permission before trekking out into the World Wide Web, lest they be confronted by angry trolls.

The necessary life experience at times feels very Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will eventually do just that. Whatever beauty we try to find or create in life is sure to be ruined, twisted, or misunderstood, letting us take two steps forward before the real world pushes us one step back. When will we be allowed to have nice things?

Which brings us to the “Iceman Pour.” At its root, it’s a form of artistic expression, a title given to the appearance of beer in a glass, devoid of foam and full to the brim. Extra recognition is gained depending on the curvature of the beer’s meniscus, the liquid millimeters away from toppling over the edge of its containment. 

The creation of such a look, meant in jest, has somehow found itself as a source of controversy within a beer community increasingly interested in the simultaneous act of navel gazing and criticism. It is equally memed and maligned. It was supposed to be fun.

“It’s simple,” says Kyle, a Massachusetts resident who goes by “solodome” on Instagram, where you’ll find plenty of Iceman Pour images. “It looks really cool. When you have liquid poured to the top of a glass, it creates this dramatic effect. Maybe you put some light behind it or give it a halo look. It’s the same thing as an airbrushed girl in a magazine. It’s not real, it’s just a picture.”
 
Kyle, who prefers to keep his online and real life identities separate, believes he may be the one responsible for coining the term both beloved and hated on social media. As best he can remember, he was among the first to jokingly call out Jim Lynch, an Instagram user who went by “jclynch1313” and who, at some point in early 2015, had begun posting images that consistently showed glasses literally full of beer. For reasons not entirely clear, but perhaps because Kyle had referenced it to him among online friends, Lynch switched his handle to “theiceman13” in August 2015.

Lynch’s to-the-top pours of sought-after beers from de Garde Brewing, Cigar City, Other Half, and more had earned him about 5,000 followers at the time, according to Kyle. Lynch now has more than 13,000. “Not a fan of head?” username devinfiachra asked in an August 2015 picture of a foamless Tree House Alter Ego. There was no response.

Up until that point, Lynch had been using “#bosspour” as the signifying marker of his pictures, a term now interchangeable with Iceman Pour. Amongst a group of friends and trading partners that included Kyle, Lynch, and others, it was actually username chrisinri, who Instagram lists as the first to use the #icemanpour hashtag—on a July 2015 photo of Bourbon County Brand Stout.

“first iceman pour is history in the making,” username benhur345, a prolific Iceman Pour photographer, wrote sometime around January 2017, having gone back to find the picture.

In February, username eportelance asked benhur345 and theiceman13: “where did #icemanpour come from and how did it become a meme?” but never got an answer.

And that's the weird part. (Well, OK, one of the weird parts.) Lynch, along with just about anyone associated as an original “leader” for the Iceman Pour or its hashtag, won’t discuss the topic. For something that gained traction among circles of beer geekery, little has been said about how and why it became A Thing in the first place. Attempts by GBH to reach people behind social media accounts who have regularly posted such imagery were unsuccessful.

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Kyle tells me after I reach out to him and ask about lack of communication among others who were the first to popularize the imagery. His perceived reason? Because online commenters turned the act of creating an unusual and fun picture into some kind of political statement, completely repurposing its existence. Angry private messages and public comments sent to Kyle and others apparently turned photographers inward. 


Even Good Beer Hunting’s Matthew Curtis called out the Iceman Pour on Twitter: “BAN THIS SICK FILTH” he half-jokingly decried in February. It was the kind of example cited by others as an unnecessary public shaming of something meant to be simple and fun.

In late 2016 and early 2017, awareness of the Iceman Pour became more common among beer enthusiasts, who immediately took to social media to poke fun at the style of serving, missing the fact that it was meant to be a visual cue and nothing else.

“People started criticizing it as if we didn’t know any better,” Kyle says. “That’s the hypocrisy of the whole thing. Of course I know how to pour a beer, but I’m pouring this for a photo-sharing site. It looks cool when it’s filled to the top. This was never about how to pour a beer. It was not an instructional video for beer geeks.”

But still, to whatever degree, it persists. Committed beer drinkers continue to post glasses as full of beer as physics allows, and even breweries have gotten into the act. Our Mutual Friend Brewery, Beavertown Brewery and Bad Seed Brewery have showcased the Iceman. Omnipollo’s Instagram feed is full of topped-off pours and Evil Twin created an “#infinitypoolpour” for one picture, among many the brewery has posted in the form of an Iceman Pour.

“You can upload a picture of a glass served the old-fashioned way, with a head and all, but if you do it Iceman style, people seem to be more into it and it gets more likes,” says Evil Twin founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. “We found it fun to play along, and with ‘#icemanpour,’ ‘#bosspour,’ and ‘#inifinitypoolpour,’ people knew we were doing this for fun and not taking ourselves seriously. I actually like how people now almost compete in going the furthest with this.” 

For better or worse, whether a detractor or practitioner, you know the Iceman Pour holds a special place among a niche beer community when one of the most famous brewers in the world gives it a shoutout. Jarnit-Bjergsø has been profiled by The New York Times, is a collaborative partner with breweries all over the United States and Europe, runs a celebrated Brooklyn beer bar that serves its brews in fancy stemware, and he shares the same innate yearning as Millennials everywhere: he just wants to get more likes. 

From a subjective point of view, the artistic merit of the Iceman Pour makes sense. Used with thick, turbid New England IPAs and opaque Stouts, the visual representation of each beer offers something different from typical beer-based photography that existed prior to its popularization. It’s fun to see a completely full glass look like it’s defying physics, somehow holding an opaque solid, not a beer.

The ultimate purpose of the Iceman Pour, really, was to create a different aesthetic to a growing hobby found on social media sites like Instagram. There was no maliciousness or callousness associated with it, but here we are, human beings trying to justify the purpose of a photography style for the sake of fun.

“There’s so much content out there, it’s easy to turn it off,” says Evan, a Pennsylvania resident who goes by "cosmicevan" on Instagram, and at one point occasionally used #icemanpour among his pictures. “But some people like to fight.”

Meanwhile, nearly everyone who helped to popularize the effort seems to no longer want to identify with the phrase itself. Jim Lynch, the Iceman, has never added an “#icemanpour” hashtag to his Instagram posts, even though that’s regularly the kind of beer picture he continues to take. The creation of this distance among early adopters seems to be uniform across Instagram, for no other reason than that’s the platform in which the imagery got the most attention and hate, so few want ownership anymore.

“It was a fun thing with a small group of people in on the joke,” Kyle explains. “As soon as anyone realized there was associated negativity or drama, they were like, ‘I’m gonna drop this now.’”

GBH’s Curtis eventually came around to the Iceman Pour, too. In March, a month after he called for a ban on the “sick filth,” he wrote the mea culpa, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Iceman Pour.” 

“Beer is a personal thing, a luxury, something that if you invest time and money in you should be able to enjoy however you damn well want to,” he wrote. “By calling out the Iceman pour I was telling people that they were enjoying beer incorrectly, which I was wrong to do.”

At least publicly, the anger toward the Iceman Pour has seemed to die down, allowing the meme to exist without incident, once again an act of fun or artistry, not perceived defiance against Cicerone-approved pouring techniques. Pictures are posted on Instagram and Twitter almost daily.

“Nobody ever wanted an Iceman Pour to be anything more than a visual for Instagram,” says Kyle. “It’s just about sharing pictures.”

Words by Bryan Roth
Graphics by Remo Remoquillo