Saturday, August 14, 2010

THE FIVE ATTITUDES OF BEER TASTING: GLASSWARE FIRST

It happens almost every day in the summer, long necks are put on ice and served at a barbecue. A “manly man” opens it with his keyring, takes a swig and struts around the gathering. The way he holds the bottle when he walks, where he rests the bottle where he sits and the way he brings the bottle to his mouth is all a carefully acted show. He needs to look cool, suave, sophisticated. Poser! Swillers of NASCAR beers sneer at a Beer Samurai pouring his favorite libation into a glass. They have no idea that there’s a reason for this act and that reason is that our beer tastes good not because we think it makes us look cool. In my opinion it does show a higher ordinance of intelligence though.

The only time that beer should be poured down your gullet from a bottle or a can is when you are drinking beer that tastes like feet, ass, medical waste, trash, Wookie sweat or has no taste whatsoever. Well, there is one exception: The Alchemist Heady Topper is meant to be drank from a can. Anyway, if you are invited to one of these poser fests, go ahead and drink the beer from the bottle…it will save you some pain and suffering because you’ll avoid some of the off-flavor assault on your taste buds. The reason for this is that you’re taking your nose out of the equation. By drinking from a bottle or a can, the beer goes straight into your mouth and the nose never gets a whiff.

The nose has a lot more importance in tasting than one would suspect…that is, unless you’re reading this and have a cold. When you’re nose is stuffed up you really can’t taste much, can you? Smell and taste are inexorably linked and work in much the same way by translating chemicals in the air and in our mouth into signals to our brain. Of course, you can still taste the beer drank from a bottle because the olfactory sensors in your nose are also accessible from the back of your throat, but there is a difference. Your nose will get more out of odors coming from the air than from your mouth since saliva has already mixed in with the beer, limiting the release of airborne chemicals. They’re there to be sure, but not as evident. Don't believe me? Drink a good beer from a glass, then the bottle and then do both holding your nose.

For beer that you really want to taste it is important to pour it into some sort of drinking vessel. There are even some vessels that are specialized to a certain style of beer. This is one of the many similarities that beer and wine tasting have in common. Almost every style of wine has a different glass, but you can get away with just a red wine glass and a white wine glass. And although many beers are more easily enjoyed in their specifically designed glassware, my rule of thumb is “when in doubt, use a pint glass”. NOTE: This has changed throughout the years as I rarely use a pint glass and gravitate more to stemmed tulips.


PINT GLASSES

Technically, the only requirement to count as a "pint" glass is for the vessel to hold a pint of liquid. However, if you ask for a pint glass in a bar you're more than likely going to get one of four styles. An American bar will almost always give you the conical variety. All will have a wide opening to aid in smelling the beer and give room for the head to form. The volume of these glasses is strictly controlled in the UK and each glass must be certified. Certified pint glasses are given the Crown stamp so that pub-goers know that they're not getting cheated out of even one drop of beer.

The size of a pint glass in the US differs from that in the UK. Part of that is that an "Imperial" fluid ounce has a little less volume than a US fluid ounce, but that is marginal when you take the difference in volume between the two pints. An Imperial pint is 20 Imperial fluid ounces, while a US pint is 16 US fluid ounces. To make this easier we'll convert both to metric. A US pint is equivalent to 473.176cc while an Imperial pint is 568.261cc. This means that a US pint has only 83% of the volume of an Imperial pint. Enough with the math...let's get on with the different varieties of the pint glass. Click on any picture to see a larger, properly proportioned version.

CONICAL aka SHAKER- This is the shape most of us think of when we think of a pint glass. It's nothing but a very simple cone, open on the wide end and truncated on the bottom before coming to a point, otherwise how would it stand? Most beer geeks will have a nice collection of these glasses promoting their favorite beers or brew pubs or sports teams/figures. It is also called a tumbler and can be made of glass or ceramic. Ceramic drinking vessels have the advantage of keeping your beer cooler longer.

NONIC - The nonic was developed because condensation can form on the outside of a glass, making it a little slippery to hold. A bulge was introduced about an inch down from the rim of the glass to stop this slippage. But this configuration had another advantage and this is where it got its name. If you stack conical pint glasses they nest pretty tightly. If the glasses aren't thoroughly dried they can get stuck together and one glass can even chip the next. You don't want to nick the edges of the rim, hence the name "no nick". You will sometimes hear this referred to as an "Irish" pint glass. That's probably because until recently, you'd be hard-pressed to find one of these in an American bar without the Guinness logo on it.

TULIP - This is NOT a tulip glass (see below for that), but a tulip-shaped pint glass. This style of pint glass has more elegant lines. It bubbles out at the sides about a third of the way up and then the walls of the glass go straight up from there. I've seen these called English pint glasses due to their prevalence there, but I've been told that nonics are just as widely used in the UK.

GERMAN - Very similar to the tulip style of pint glass, but the "bubbling out" is not as drastic and occurs further up the side of the glass. This is also called a willybecher or more commonly, just a becker.





TULIP GLASSES

Tulip glasses are becoming more and more popular in the United States. It may have something to do with the fact that Belgian beers are becoming more popular or that most craft breweries now have tulip glasses with their logo emblazoned across the front. Tulip glasses almost always have a stem and can be held by the stem to avoid warming one's beer with the heat from your hands. Some even go as far as holding it by the foot to avoid transferring heat. I like my beers a little warmer, so the stem is mostly useless to me, as I tend to hold it by the bottom of the bowl anyway. The shape of the glass, which not surprisingly resembles a tulip, is designed to enhance any odors coming from the beer by concentrating them in the glass' throat and then opening up to waft it to your nose. It also to assist in building the head.


SNIFTERS

These are not all that different from a tulip except that the mouth doesn't flare back out. The diameter of the mouth is much smaller than the bowl and concentrates the vapors coming from the top of the beer. Traditionally used for cognac and brandy, beers with massive ABVs can be well-served in this type of glass. Some don't even have stems and are meant for you to cup in the palm of your hand to warm the liquid and release more of the vapors from the alcohol.


WEIZEN GLASSES

Known as wheat glasses in the US, these are tall glasses that can accommodate the mass of suds generated by German wheat beers. The skinny height of the glass also shows off the beautiful variety of colors found in these types of beers. They can be challenging to drink from if you're not patient enough to wait for the head to recede, unless you know what you're doing. If you tilt it slowly, the head will pack itself into that upper flare you see, allowing the beer to come to its daddy (or mommy), without having to such down the head.





PILSNER GLASSES

Designed to accentuate the positives of the beer style after which the glass is named, they can range from straight walls that form the shape of a trumpet's bell or they can be gently curved...some even have stems and are called pokals. Whichever style, they perform the same function for pilsners as weizen glasses do for wheat beer and that's why they look so similar. They show off the beer's color and carbonation and have space to hold a voluminous amount of foamy head.


CHALICES

Every Trappist ale and abbey ale is supposed to be tasted from a chalice or goblet, or so it is told. I prefer those styles in a tulip glass and feel that the insistence on using this type of a glass is more religious than functional. Why would an abbot drink from any other type of vessel than one shaped like the cup that caught the holiest of blood? These do help in head retention, especially if "scored" on the bottom, but I feel that the tulip glass can build a more dramatic rise of billowy head. This view is sure to be contested as many do believe that to drink a Trappist ale from anything other than a chalice is blasphemy. What I do love about chalices is that they can be highly decorative. My Orval chalice is ribbed on the inside while my Kasteel chalice has the castle that gives the beer its name built onto the foot of the glass as a support for the stem. Both of these chalices are gold-rimmed. Very pretty, but I rarely use them.


FLUTES


Yes, the flute that you drink champagne from, not the instrument used that one time in band camp. There are many styles of beer that have the delicate body and ample carbonation of sparkling wine and can be best enjoyed in glass that doesn't allow the bubbles to get up your nose. It also forces you to sip your beer and really appreciate all the flavor nuances. Rather than drinking Dom Perignon of Veuve Clicquot on New Year's Eve, I may fill my flute with an oude gueze from Cantillon.


STANGES

This is just a simple tall cylinder that is also called a kolsch glass, since kolsch is best served in one of these. These glasses allow the scent elements in more delicate beers to be concentrated. What I don't understand about this is the mouth is not wide enough for you to smell the beer. The size of the aperture also makes it impossible to chug. Put a kolsch in a pint glass and you'll be able to suck it down in seconds.


MUGS

A mug is any drinking vessel with a handle. These can be glass, ceramic, even metal. They can be smooth or dimpled (in which case they can be called a krug). They can also even be lidded, as is the case with a lot of steins. Most beer mugs have some serious volume and boast pretty thick walls. My favorite benefit is that the heat from your hand won't transfer to the beer. This is why I only use a mug if I'm drinking a beer that is best served cold. An added bonus is that they're also easier to toast with because they're usually pretty sturdy and because your fingers are out of the way. And please don't chill them (or any other glass for that matter), you'll only end up diluting your beer and making it colder than necessary. Save the frosty mug for root beer.


BOOTS

According to truebeer.com, a Persian general vowed to drink beer from his boot if they were victorious. They were and he was faced with the thought of having to drink from a vessel of worn leather that would make the beer taste like feet. So he had a glassmaker fashion a boot of glass and a tradition of toasting victories by drinking from a glass boot began. It's now more of a novelty and many German breweries put their logos on them and sell them to tourists, mostly Americans. truebeer.com also claims that the incredibly serious and ground-breaking documentary BeerFest increased the popularity of the boot in the US due to the final face-off between the Germans and the Americans. Landfill lives! This is the one style of glass that I do not currently have in my collection. I should rectify that and find one with a Franziskaner logo.


YARD GLASSES

These glasses are three feet long with a bulb on the bottom, so you need a stand to hold them up. Why would someone design a glass like this? Back in the days of coaches, these glasses were used to hoist up to coachmen so they could have a drink before having to hurry off to their next stop. This is another challenging glass to drink from.




Of course there are other shapes and sizes. The glass I have for drinking Aventinus is hard to describe so I've supplied a picture. It almost looks like a water tower. I have seen curved stanges that look more like art deco flower vases and there's even a pint glass that has an interior shaped like an inverted beer bottle. Some glassware is meant to emulate the drinking horns of Scandinavia. So many of these are just novelties and you're best off sticking to the standard styles listed above...well, except for a yard glass or a boot. There are only four reasons to drink from a glass boot: you were victorious in battle, you want to show off your drinking prowess, you're doing a Broadway interpretation of BeerFest or you just want to get drunk. Neither the yard glass nor the boot does anything to enhance the beer itself.

Some glasses come in half sizes (like yard and pint glasses) and some in larger sizes (like a 1L kolsch or a 3L boot...just imagine). And of course they can come in a wide variety of colors and can be adorned with any manner of logo or even personalized. Which glass you ultimately choose to drink from is up to you, but please do drink from a glass when drinking good beer.

Next Time: The Five Attitudes of Beer Tasting: Part One - Appearance

2 comments:

  1. FWIW, I've seen boot glasses in the Germany pavilion at Disney's Epcot.

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