Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's In A Glass? How Glassware Can Affect Your Beer Experience

Good Evening,

Weizenbierglas:
A grand Idea!
I’ve been out to a few pubs lately, and I’ve noticed that sometimes a fantastic brew is served in a less-than-perfect glass. Some people may think I’m crazy if my beer tastes better or worse based on the vessel in which it is served. Others will think I’m a beer-snob, and yet more will not care. Hopefully some will agree that glassware affects beer experience. I’m going to dedicate my next three posts to glassware, so let me state my case, and decide for yourself whether or not the glass makes the beer!

Case 1: Weizenbierglas (Wheat Beer Glass)
Have you ever been to a pub that serves Erdinger Weissbrau? If not, you should give it a try. It’s delicious, and it is a prime example of mission-critical glassware. Generally Erdinger is served in a tall, slender glass with a bulbous head. This is called a “Weizenbierglas” or, when translated from German to English, a wheat beer glass. It’s made for wheat beers. Obviously, you can pour any kind of beer you’d like into this glass, but for best results, use a wheat beer. Weissbier (which means white beer, the Bavarian term for wheat beers, or Weizenbier outside of Bavaria) is very foamy, due to Weissbier yeast strains and proteins from the wheat itself. When you pour a Weissbier properly, you will get a fairly high collar of foam. The Weizenbierglas’s narrow waist helps concentrate the foam, and the large flare at the top cradles the foam, permitting a substantial “peak” of foam to rest above the rim of the glass. Doesn't that sound great?

Case 2: Shaker Tumbler Glasses
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the “shaker” pint glass. It is best used for serving Cesars. Pouring a beer into a shaker is a near-crime. If you have ever had a very aromatic beer (let’s say a Belgian Dubbel) served to you in a shaker, you probably think that the glass is not hindering the beer’s aromas. Well, there is no tapering, so the aroma doesn’t really stick with the beer as much. This is just a wide open glass that is great for cocktails, but lends nothing to a beer drinking experience. If you were to pour the same beer into a stemmed tulip glass, you would notice a huge difference. There is an inward taper to hold in the aroma, and the flare at the top helps the glass fit the mouth well and also supports the beer’s head. A great example of great glassware would be Ottawa’s own Big Rig, and their Old Man Winter seasonal brew. This ale was a Belgian-style Strong Ale (sometimes known as a Quadruppel), and it was served in a stemmed tulip glass. The aromas presented by this glass were fantastic. The trick was to warm the glass in your hand before drinking it, which brings me to my next point.
The Shaker:
Great for Cocktails...

Case 3: Temperature
Drinking a commercial lager out of a frosted beer glass may be all well and good, but when you are drinking a craft brew, it mutes the aroma and flavor of the beer. For example, I went to a pub in Niagara Falls that had some pretty nice craft brew, and it was served in appropriate glassware. The problem was that the glass was so cold that the beer actually slushed up. I had a porter and a wheat beer that night, and the aromas were nearly nil on both pints until I was half-finished. The pint I had at Big Rig wasn’t so extremely cold. I could just hold the glass in my hand for a minute or so and the aromas were unleashed. And man, that beer was good.

Aroma comes from all of the good stuff in the beer, so it stands to reason that if the beer is too cold, none of it can evaporate and create wonderful aromas for beer enthusiasts to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, if the beer is too warm… well, we all know how warm beer tastes. Serving temperature for beer should be roughly 3º to 13º Celsius (38º to 55º Farenheit). Darker beer or stronger beer should be served warmer, while lighter and weaker (let’s say “less strong”) beer should be served at colder temperatures. Rules to live by.

I hope that my first entry about beer glassware was educational and entertaining. Stay tuned for my next two posts about glassware, where I will go over some glasses best fitted to strong beer, and we'll also take a look at the Samuel Adams Boston Lager glass. That’s right, Boston Brewery’s Jim Koch has actually created a glass for his flagship lager. Not that it's new or anything, but it is pretty awesome!

Until next time…

S.B.