By Kevin Patterson and Tres Watson
Here’s a confession from a beer-tender: A late post-Keenland evening commences with a half dozen group of young 20-somethings all clad in suits that looked they could have been their fathers’. The young gents step up to the bar and confidently order a highly esteemed Belgain trappist ale each, while their female counterparts smartly opted for glasses of water. While at first, I applauded the young men for their fine choice in ale, I was quickly disappointed by their actions that ensued. Upon opening the beers and displaying the chalice into which the beers would be properly decanted, I was interrupted by, “We won’t need the glasses; we’ll drink from the bottle.”
Slightly dismayed, I understood that these were paying customers and had the prerogative to enjoy the beers as they deemed fit. While it took them mere minutes to dismantle the 10-percent alcohol beers, they asked for another round. I scooted the chalices further into their direction, encouraging the use of them in shy manner. After a few more sips, their ringleader then asked, “Are we supposed to use the glasses?”
“Why, yes” I explained, continuing to address the topic as I now had his devoted attention. “Keep in mind that these Belgian ales are highly carbonated for greater impressions of dryness and are expected to dispel much of its carbon dioxide during the pour. Drinking straight from the bottle doesn’t allow those gasses to escape, so all those bubbles go straight into your stomach. Later when you try to woo those fine ladies, the gas will want to exit your system in one of two directions- neither are working in your best interest.”
Now wide-eyed and captivated by my dissertation, he wisely decided to use the glass as I suggested and so did his companions. They even went so far as to mention the difference in taste after the beer was poured into the chalice. My work here was done!
But aside from the utilitarian use of proper using a glass, there are many more benefits to selecting the proper vessel for full enjoyment of the beer that you may have just paid upwards of $8 for mere ounces. The question quickly resumes, “Does the glass make the beer taste better?”
The answer is both yes and no. Pouring a beer into a glass doesn’t change any of the ingredients or processes that the brewer used in creating those flavors, so the beer doesn’t actually taste different. However, the proper glassware will always raise your sensitivities to all the layers of flavors that are surely missed when drinking from the bottle. Those sensitivities include visual clues, aromatic nuances, palate impressions, and more broadness to the trigemental sensations of the mouth. With a small stable of glassware in your cupboard, you can learn to enjoy every beer you drink with new depth and appreciation.
The Pilsner Flute is a tall slender glass that has a firm yet elegant base. It starts narrow at the bottom and flares a diagonal line toward the top. The thin profile shows off the beer’s clear and filtered appearance for a bright glow of golden hues. The flute should accommodate enough volume for 12 ounces of beer plus an extra inch to contain the fluffy white head that ensues. As the carbonation releases from the bottom of the glass, the beer takes on a champagne-like demeanor and concentrates aromas upward to the brim. It’s an ideal glass for pre-dinner aperitifs or as complement to fine dining of Italian cuisine or sea fare.
Similar to the flute, the Weizen Glass is also tall and slender but is anchored with a much sturdier base. As it starts with a thinner profile at the base, it flares into a bulb-like body to contain the volume of traditional German Hefeweizens. Bottles of these quaffable wheat ales commonly arrive in 16-ounce volumes, so the glass is large enough to handle the larger amount of beer and its rich lathery head that amounts to three or four inches above the surface of the beer. Its slender column allows for a diffused glow of light to emit from behind where a wider glass would render the hazy ale as murky and perhaps unappealing. A slight taper toward the top aids in the concentration of all those zesty lemon, banana, and clove notes for which the style is famed. And with a dish of weisswurst and rye bread, this midmorning snack will take your imagination straight to Bavaria.
The classic English tumbler, or nonic tumbler, most resembles the glassware that’s commonly served when asking for a pint of beer on draft at the local watering hole. However, unlike those mundane and banal “shaker” pint glasses that do little to celebrate the beer’s flavor, appearance or aromatics, its cousin of inspiration does much better. With no base and a strong grip, the beer flares slightly from the bottom and is met with a bevel two-thirds up the body. This serves as a resting point for the hand as many English pubs rely on standing and holding room only. While allowing the glassware to stack better, this bevel also accommodates the volume needed for a proper beer-drinking session that constitutes 16- to 20-ounce and its creamy foam cap. Its large mouth is meant for higher rate of consumption when chasing bangers and mash or sheppard’s pie. This is a very versatile glass that meets the style demands of pale ales, brown ales, porters and stouts in 20-ounce format for lower gravity versions. Stronger IPAs and such may be best served in a 12- to 16-ounce size because of their relatively higher alcohol content.
The ever-classy Belgian tulip is a wonderful glass for nearly all things Belgium. With its elegant stem and fragile base, the beer’s volume is stored in the bulb-like body of the stemware that constitutes its 10- to 12-ounce pours. As the bulb closes near the brim to concentrate aromas, the glass then flares outward to accept the mouth and nose while it draws the beer onto the middle of the tongue for full and rich effect. Keep in mind that these glasses should be far larger than merely the beer volume suggest. Because of the high rate of effervescence, a billowing head will easily build to the brim to enjoy all those delicate and wonderful aromas.
Every appreciator of beers that approach or exceed the 10-percent alcohol threshold needs a larger brandy snifter in their collection. Suggested in 8 to 10 ounces at a time, a snifter will contain the reasonable portions well and concentrate all the wonderful complexities that the higher alcohols, richer malts and hops to match within the rim. Many aged notes, esters and spices may be easily dismissed if not for the collapse of the brim that entices the nose. As many of these beers reveal even more delightful flavors as they warm, the round body of the glass easily accommodates the hands that can aid in warming the beer to its ideal temperature.
Although these are the basics for glassware that beer enthusiasts should have available to them, there are many others that can aid in beer appreciation. German mugs or biersteins contain large 1 to 2 liters of beer for fall and spring vessels without hounding the waitress every 10 minutes for another pint. Witbiers and sour ales are often preferred in fluted tumblers. And every Belgian beer has a prescribed glass that’s designed for its specific enjoyment, especially those chalices meant for trappist ales. Even the Samuel Adams brand has designed what they deem as the “perfect pint” which enhances beer appreciation on many levels. I find that in a pinch, and oversized wine glass that’s meant for red work just fine for most beer styles as well.
Now that you have your collection, it’s very important to keep them “beer clean.” This is a real term that means that beer glasses require special attention to proper beer serving. Your collection should always be hand washed, inside and out, with perfume-free detergents so that the residue doesn’t interfere with the beer’s flavor. I find OxiClean (nonscented) or homebrewer’s PBW work very well.
The glasses should be rinsed several times with clean water to reduce soap spots and then allowed to air dry before use. Never use a towel to dry the glasses as the fibers left behind will diminish the head character of the beer and rob your nose and eyes of the appreciation that the beers deserve. Store your clean glasses in a relatively dust-free cabinet, not far you’re your dedicated beer fridge.
Before pouring the beer into a glass, give it one more rinse with clean water to remove dust particles as the wetness will also eliminate the points of nucleation that will cause over-foaming and make your beer go too flat too soon. If you witness a grouping of bubbles that cling to the inside of the glass, then this is an area of concern as it is not “beer clean” Literally- wash, rinse, repeat.
As the cost of our foods and beverages continues to rise, we want to make sure we get the full enjoyment from every hard-earned penny spent. The proper glass will ensure that no detail is missed when it comes to your beers. If your favorite bar or restaurant isn’t using these simple practices, it’s a good idea to politely tell them that this is a detail that you, a paying customer, would enjoy. Cheers!
Kevin Patterson is the resident beer guide and manager at the Beer Trappe on Euclid Avenue. He is an Army veteran and formerly worked in the architecture profession before taking his love of craft beer into the occupation ranks. Patterson also is a nationally ranked Beer Judge Certification Program beer judge and a Cicerone Certified Beer Server (Cicerones are to beer what sommeliers are to wine.) Throughout the course of his career, he has reviewed 2,800 different beers, judged in more than 100 competitions and festivals, and co-written many articles on the beer culture. He has lived in Lexington for 17 years.
Tres Watson, a graduate of Centre College, is vice president of RunSwith public relations. Before moving to Lexington, he created and directed the 2004 Border Beer Bust in Augusta, Ga., which featured nearly 200 beers and drew 5,000 attendees over two days. Watson is an avid beer drinker and a particular fan of IPAs. He and his wife, Laura, live in Lexington, are members of the Lexington Beer Aficionados and can frequently be found at Pazzo’s or the Beer Trappe.