Saturday, January 24, 2009

Glassware Matters

Most fans of craft beer collect branded beer glassware like stray dogs. Shelves are filled with all shapes and styles of beer glasses, most with brewery logos etched on their sides. Such brewery paraphernalia has become the currency of the craft beer market, bought and traded as often as the beers made to fill them.

Of course, every brewer will want you to drink their beer out of their particular glass—that is simply basic business marketing. Many will also claim that their glassware possesses specific design elements that can enhance the drinking experience, and bring out the flavors of the beverage to their fullest. But how much of this is true and how much is just promotional hype? Is specialized glassware even needed at all?

To start, you should always consume your beer from a clean, room temperature glass. Your palate can only detect five different flavors, which means that the majority of your tasting is done through the aroma. (This is why food tastes bland when you have a cold.) Sucking a beer through the narrow neck of a bottle robs you of much of the flavor of that beverage.

Pouring a beer into a glass also stirs up the carbonation in the beer, releasing even more aromatic elements as the head is formed as well as slightly oxygenating the drink. Think of pouring beer from a bottle to a glass the same as decanting a bottle of wine. No one would swill a wine directly from the bottle, and neither should you treat fine beer with any less respect.

Proper glassware should also only be kept at room temperature, or at the most lightly refrigerated. Serving beer in frozen mugs does nothing but crank down the dial on flavors, as cold suppresses the taste the same way that warmth facilitates it. In addition, a glass with frozen sides will only freeze the water out of the beer, leaving thin ice chunks floating in a beer that dilutes as they melt.

However, contrary to the multitude of glassware designs foisted upon consumers today, only two types of glassware are truly necessary to enjoy the vast majority of beer styles available. First and foremost is the basic tumbler or shaker pint, the standard serving vessel for most pubs and restaurants today. It is heavy, sturdy, functional and durable, and easy to replace if broken.

Many variations on this basic design can be found, such as the tulip pint glass or the nonic. The basic design is a roughly cylindrical shape that widens slightly at the top; thick sides are a plus but any further filigree or design elements are irrelevant and contribute nothing to the drinking experience. This is your basic, everyday, serviceable glass for most beer styles.

But for your more aromatic beers, one additional glass is necessary. This type would be your basic tulip stemware, which could also be a snifter, a goblet, a thistle or even a wine glass. This glassware is far more delicate, with thinner sides and a more intricate intent, and should be cared for accordingly. Breakage is common, and some particular items are not so easily replaced.

This tulip stemware has two attributes the basic, ordinary pint glass does not. The material is thinner than most glasses, which will allow the warmth from your hand to gently warm the cold beverage included therein. Many aromatic beers, especially the high-gravity barleywines or imperial stouts, only reach their full flavor potentials at cellar temperatures—temperatures about 10° to 20° warmer than the common storage medium of the refrigerator.

But the most important attribute of the tulip stemware is the shape itself. Unlike the pint glass—which is wider at the top—good stemware should narrow slightly at the rim, creating an overall bulb-like shape to the glass. This allows the aromatic nose to be better contained within the glass and sampled with a deep breath prior to each sip.

Anything beyond these two styles of glassware is vanity. There is nothing wrong with collecting many interesting and varied beer glasses, as we all have shelves lined with such beautiful brewery swag. But there should never be more than two that do not collect dust—the pint glass and the stemware—because there is no proven functional benefit beyond these two designs.


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Personalized Shot Glass said...

I'm inclined that washing glassware is a very easy job to do, but if you are a hotel steward, you will find out that there are very strict guidelines when it comes to washing them.