Sunday, February 24, 2013

Beer Glassware Part 2: Serving Up Big Beer

Good evening,

It’s snowing, damp, and kind of cold outside. In other words, it’s a beautiful night for a big beer!

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that a big beer is another term for a strong beer. I don’t mean a “big name” beer from one of the big industrial breweries. Now that that's covered...

My treat for the night is a Nostradamus Belgian Extra-Strong Brown Ale by Brasserie Caracole in Belgium. The vessel from which I will be enjoying this beer is a stemmed tulip glass. When drinking a big Belgian beer, a stemmed tulip is most appropriate for several reasons:

Nostradamus Belgian Strong Brown Ale,
Pictured here served in a stemmed tulip glass.
1. Having a stem on your glass not only helps you keep a better grip on the glass, it prevents heat transfer from your hand to your beer. In the case of strong beers, you generally drink them a bit warmer (10-13°C). If you have a semi-warm beer and add some good old-fashioned hand heat, you end up with overly warm beer, which is no treat.

2. Having a glass that tapers in on the way up helps keep the aroma concentrated, so I get all of the biscuity, spicy, chocolatey, boozy, beautiful aromas right smack dab in the nose. Were I to stick my nose in a chilled shaker pint glass, I would maybe get the most predominant aromas in a toned-down form, but for the most part they would dissipate and mix in with all of the other aromas in the room.

3. The outward lip at the very top of the glass helps with foam retention, while the inward taper helps concentrate the foam.

So you see, by using this glass with a Belgian strong ale - which contains a lot of aroma, flavour and head - I get the maximum sensory output from my 330mL bottle. Fantastic!

There are several other strong beers that have recommended glassware. Imperial Stout is well represented in a snifter glass, as it does not present a lot of foam, so no lip is required to hold it in. The slight inward taper (as mentioned above) helps to concentrate aromas such as dark chocolate, tobacco and molasses. Trappist Ales (not all Trappist Ales are Belgian, so I do not group them in with Belgian strong ales) have their chalice, which generally has a longer stem and shallower bowl than a snifter, but still provides access to the alluring spices that exist on the nose. For beer that is generally served colder (in Canada, anyway), such as a double IPA or a Bock, I like the biconical pint glass, as my generally warm hands help enhance the flavour and aroma. If I am lucky enough to get my hands on a Weizenbock, I stick to the Weissbierglas I mentioned in my first post on beer glassware.

Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate
Cranberry Stout served in a snifter. Delicious.
(Enjoyed at Sir John A. in Ottawa)
Now that you have an idea of what type of glassware to use for your big beers, we should cover another aspect of serving beer: how to pour a beer into your fancy new glassware.

Have you ever finished drinking a freshly poured beer, only to start feeling a bit bloated and gassy? Did you assume that this was just part of drinking a carbonated beverage? That’s what I used to think, until I read Randy Mosher’s book “Tasting Beer”. This handy little tome has taught me quite a bit about the proper enjoyment of beer, as well as how to properly serve the nectar of the gods.

Pouring a beer down the side of a tilted glass helps keep the foam down on a beer, this is true. But what else does it do? It helps keep the beer super carbonated, which is not such a good thing. Mr. Mosher tells us that we should keep our beer glass upright, and just pour the beer right down the middle. The supposed drawback of this method is that it takes longer to pour the beer. Once you have poured a few beers using this technique and reaped the benefits (the ability to drink multiple beers without feeling ultra-full and gross, maintaining the head and with it the aroma of the beer), you will learn to be patient with your beer and wait a couple minutes if need be.
Biconical Pint Glass

I hope that the second installment of my beer glassware education series was helpful, and I’m hoping you tune in next time for brewery specific glassware, where I’ll be covering the Samuel Adams custom Boston Lager glass, and the Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada/Spiegelau collaborative creation made to enhance the flavour and aroma of IPAs. I’ll also go over a weird Belgian glassware custom, among other topics.


Cheers!

S.B.