Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Idea That Doesn't Hold Water

What is the purpose of a beer glass?

First, I would submit, it is to hold beer and make it available to drink. Beer, that is, this stuff we enjoy, we write about, talk about, argue about, occasionally sing about, and make in huge lots -- even a small batch is about five gallons. A beer glass holds beer.

Second, it should be comfortable in the hand. A beer glass that is awkward to hold can lead to spilled beer, discomfort, and a subtle displeasure. It doesn't hurt if the glass also looks good, because that's more of that subtle pleasure/displeasure thing.

Third, I'd add, it should be relatively easy to clean -- glass cleanliness demonstrably makes beer taste better (or perhaps more accurately, uncleanliness demonstrably makes beer taste worse) -- reasonably sturdy -- I'd like to grip the glass and not worry about breaking it, which I have seen happen; not pretty -- and not wicked expensive.

Fourth? I hear a lot of fourth things about beer glasses. They should be "the right glass for the beer." Some beers, apparently, need a glass that opens up to release their aroma, while others need a glass that tapers in at the top to hold their more delicate aromas in. Some beers need thin walls to...well, I'm not real clear on that reason, though I do like a thin-walled glass, as long as I don't have to clean or replace them. Some beers need small glasses because they're high-alcohol -- I approve! -- and some deserve big glasses because they're lower in alcohol -- makes sense. And when I'm buying draft beer in unspecified amounts, I don't want to see "cheater" glasses with optically-deceptive thick walls and thick bottoms that look like glasses that hold more.

But...possibly the most common beer glass out there right now is the one on the left in the picture above, the ubiquitous Libbey shaker glass, known variously as a "shaker," a "shaker pint" (it's not a pint, and Libbey doesn't specify a volume), a "sleeve pint," or just a "pint glass." It's sturdy, it stacks well, it's cheap, and it leaves plenty of plain area for logo application. It cleans well, and yes, it's reasonably comfortable in the hand.

As you can probably guess, ubiquity has bred contempt*.The shaker glass is ugly, we're told, it's too thick, it 'cheats' the consumer because it's not really a pint, and beer just doesn't taste as good in it. Besides, the Belgians have different glasses for every beer, and the English have 20 oz. pints, and the Germans have...small glasses for kölsch!

'Ugly' is subjective. I find the stacked rows of shakers in my cupboard quite pretty, alternating up and down, colorful logos, and they fit. Some are thick, some are not (the thickest is a "Michelob Ales and Lagers" glass, but I'm not judging...).

The glass doesn't cheat the consumer: it's never been officially a 'pint glass,' we just call it that because we want to be like the English -- God help us -- and they have true pint glasses, with a fill line, because they actually care about what they're getting in a glass. If the bar advertises a "pint" and serves your beer in a shaker glass...well, you can either bitch about it, or you can realize that you saw the damned glasses before you ordered, and should have bitched then. (I bitched about the incredibly thick-walled/based and tapered shaker I got that you see to the right...and got nowhere. I didn't buy another, though, and haven't been back since, despite very good food.)

The beer doesn't taste as good? Please. The beer tastes at least as good, and if you're concentrating enough to think you notice a difference, you're a geek, so use any damned glass you want. We should have a different glass for every beer? Sure, and you'll pay for it when the ignoropulace starts stealing those cool-looking glasses. Shakers are so ubiquitous and cheap that they don't get stolen. Bonus.

I can be just as subjective as the next beer geeker. I love the willibecker glass (like the Harpoon IPA glass above). It's thin-walled, feels great in my hand, and the ones I have all have fill lines at either 0.5 or 0.3 liters. Good to go.

But I really love that Mönchshof mug of mine. It's stylish, it keeps the beer cold, it feels great in my hand, and makes an emphatic point when I pound it on the table. But mugs like it are rejected by so many beer cognoscenti. Too heavy, you can't see your beer, old-fashioned. To which I respond: so what? Too heavy? Give me a second, I'll make it lighter for ya. Can't see my beer? Shit, man, don't you know what it looks like by now? (Besides...it keeps the sunlight off your hops, eh?) And...old-fashioned? Damn right it is! So's beer!

Do you hate shaker glasses? Sweet. It's a big world, and your shaker-hating shows me it's a pretty good one: we've gotten past being pissed about frosted glasses, and dirty glasses, and chipped glasses, and a dearth of variety of beer to put in them, and we've progressed to getting pissy about which glass we're enjoying our beer from.That's great!

Time for a beer. Out of any damned glass you want.


*Andy, not picking on you in particular: there are plenty of shaker-haters out there. But I'm in a rush to get this finished, and yours was the first link that came up. When I get a moment, I'll add some links to Jeff Alworth and The Good Doctor Beaumont, who I know feel the same way you do. See you tomorrow.

28 comments:

Velky Al said...

Not much of one for religious terminology but amen and amen to that!

I have my fair share of glassware, though no stoneware as of yet, and do I give a fig which glass I use? Nope, as long as the beer is good, I am a happy bunny.

Being British though, I do have a thing for nonics, and the occasional dimpled mug.

BeerPancakes said...

Nice post. I think it's funny that you point out people think that beer mugs are too heavy...I am one of those people and people just make fun of me for being lazy. You're right that a mug really isn't TOO heavy. I do, however, find it odd that whenever I drank out of a mug, that I notice that it is heavier. It just kind of bugs me. My one mug exception is the ceramic mug at Iron Hill has for the mug club. That is a cool way to drink a beer.

-Trevor

Frank Hahne said...

I'm all about a shell glass, with a sham coming in a close 2nd.

Alan said...

You know what this whole discussion reminds me of? Disco speakers. Remember back in the early 80s when your audiophile pals had a stack of 45s and lps and different audio equipment to suit each type of music? Beer glassware is like that.

Beer in any glass has a taste. And I presume that most craft brewers brew their beer for the most common glass. In the US, that is the shaker. Some may say that this glass is not as exquisite and fails to provide the maximum boost to the nuanced flavours but all that is no more that a big set of woofers to make the most out of the Bony M Christmas album.

Or maybe it's the mid-range knob on an amp. Or maybe a bad equalizer...

Anonymous said...

I have somewhere between 600 and 700logoed beer glasses. And maybe 100krugs. Some of my collection is pre-pro but most are from breweries I've visited. Shakers are cheap, make nice souveniers and being a long time collector of breweriana I do just that, collect them. I don't drink out of them either. Well not the glasses but maybe the krugs now and then. Long ago I purchased cases of 20 oz. nonics and we use those for nearly everything we drink at my house. I've long loved them but I have a hankering to switch to Willie Beckers for a change. Now if I could just somehow find space to display all 30 years of my breweriana I'd be happy. Probably never gonna happen though.

Chuck Triplett

Stephen Beaumont said...

It's ugly, I say! Ugly, ugly, ugly! And which glass you use does matter, since it's been proven time and again that we eat and drink with our eyes as well as our mouths.

It's not the ubiquity of the shaker that makes me despise it -- I drink out of pretty much the same glass no matter which pub I'm in when I visit the UK and have no bother with it -- it's its ugliness.

Anonymous said...

I like the Libby "pints" so much we use them for all our drinking. Water...Orange Juice...Milk...oh and BEER! A whole cabinet full of them. I use other styles too, but can't hardly beat the standard old Libby.

Jeff Alworth said...

Just to show how ecumenical I can be: I don't hate the shaker, either. My honest pint crusade aside, it's not a terrible glass. I'm used to it, perhaps, but I find it as attractive as the English pint--though less so than the tulip pint.d

But, and here's a HUGE but, in one dimension is is clearly inferior: aroma. I had occasion to test this recently, though inadvertently. I had poured one of my homebrewed peach lambics into a tulip snifter and was amazed at how rich and fresh the peach smelled. I had just had a pint of of it recently in one of my shakers, and didn't recall that. So I went and dumped the beer into the shaker. Still a nice aroma, but the intensity was a few notches lower.

I'm not the best brewer, see, so any advantage I can muster, I take.

Andy Crouch said...

I have to admit that it's a little unsettling to read a post, see an asterisk citing a footnote, read said footnote and having it address you personally. Weird.

In any event, no problem. The Shaker has gained ubiquity for a reason. It's just sort of the American light lager of the glassware world. It's perfectly serviceable and gets the job done but doesn't offer much more than base utility. The point of my piece was just that beer glasses can be so much more.

And as I noted in my book, I agree that the Willi Tumbler, or Willibecker as you call it, is the perfect everyday beer glass. I wish I had a dozen of the Harpoon glasses. At home I drink out of three vessels: the Willi, a giant ball jar, and a big, somewhat clunky Zotler mug. I know what my beer looks like. I just like the heft, the clunk, and the Germanity of it all...

My line-up for tomorrow night is a pretty good one (with a few surprises). Hope you're bringing your A game...

Cheers,

Andy

Cooking Lager said...

What I'd like to know about the american market is whether it is clear to the customer what measure they are getting when they order a beer. Even if it is different between or within states. Across Europe the measures are different but at least clear and standard in the local market.

Mainland Europe has metric, whilst Britain has Imperial but it's clear that you are buying either a pint or half a litre in whatever country you are in. This gives customers clarity of quality, price and quantity.

Lew Bryson said...

Bullseye, Cookie: there is no such uniformity, nor do 99% of consumers seem to care. That said, most Americans drinking lager -- which is to say, "most Americans" -- drink it from cans and bottles, not draft, so they know exactly how much they're getting.

sam k said...

Also keep in mind that the degree of taper in a given glass will affect how much beer you get in each pour. The more drastic the taper, the bigger the head, and the less actual beer delivered.

When I was selling beer, we offered our retailers a card describing exactly how much profit they could make off a half of beer with a given glass, and the rate changed dramatically from style to style. The beautiful pilsner glass in your photo is the worst culprit in that regard.

jp said...

Good Points. Nothing wrong with those pint shaker glasses, durable easy to stack and clean. I would only add aesthetics count for something. Sometimes it just nice to have something fancy or a little different for a change of pace no matter what it is. Case in point when I lived in the former Czechoslovakia 20 years ago any pub that served draft throughout the entire country served beer in a half liter glass mug that was either fluted with ridges or dimples it was the socialist version of the modern day shaker. No logo, no color, completely functional and completely fine. But if you went to a any place that was slightly more upscale than a hospodarska -cocktail bar, hotel bar, sit down restaurant or whatever, beer came in paper thin glass pilsner glasses with the logo of said beer. Now it really made no difference to the beer, but it was a nice little touch that was a little more gentlemanly or refined than a big bulky heavy chipped mug. I think it would be nice here in the states if I go to some nice place more than a pub, to be served a beer in something a little more compatible with finer table ware. That is all but really nothing to do with taste of beer

Anonymous said...

I have NO issue with getting less in a glass in fact I PREFER to get less and wish these multi taps would offer smaller glasses so I could sample more beers.

Go back to the 7 oz sham glass, I say, even if bartenders have to work a little harder (might cut down on their flirting)

Jay Zeis said...

I personally could care less what glass the beer is poured into. I love the aroma, but am really there for the taste. I don't mind the look of the shaker pint, like the feel of it, and love that they are almost indestructible (i have dropped many at home, few have broke).

For the record, I have a few of the harpoon willibecker glasses, and they are my favorite to drink out of- due to the comfort of them.

JohnM. said...

You pretty much stole my thunder Cooking Lager.

This used to be something that bothered me considerably, but only because I felt as if a bait and switch was being perpetrated upon me. I felt an inordinate number of beer bars were passing these shaker glasses off as a real pint glass, and that's what so annoyed me. I felt as if I was drinking from a lie.

However, I can't really say that any more. Sure, it would be nice if there was some sort of uniformity in the beer bar market when it comes to glassware, but, well... there isn't.

My feeling is that it's up to the customer to decide what represents a fair price for a glass of beer; and after all, it's not as if beer bars in America all charge the same price for the same glass of beer. Here in Baltimore I can go into a beer bar and pay $4 for a shaker glass of 60 minute; walk out and go next door and buy the exact same beer out of a real pint glass for $6... or just as easiliy $3.50.

I still do not approve of beer bars that list "pint" prices on their menu or chalk board and then serve the beer in a shaker glass. Other than that, a shaker glass generally works just fine for me (granted, a tulip glass would probably be better, but I'll take what I can get, provided the glass otherwise meets the criteria listed in Lew's post).

Steven said...

Add another vote for the Becker -- I have a couple different sizes that I always rotate, though I often grab one of my Guinness Imperial Pint glasses if I'm reviewing a nice ale.

Harry Spade said...

My favorite drinking vessel is the stein my wife gave me for our anniversary a few years back. It's got a lid! No more bitching about bugs landing in my beer when I'm sitting outside.

Anonymous said...

We love the Libby "pint" so much they are our glasses for everyday use. Orange juice, milk, whatever. I do however have some specialty glasses I like to use, like the Samuel Adams glass, but hard to beat the good ole' pint glass.

JessKidden said...

Actually, Libbey's Foodservice catalog (pdf available at link below) calls the standard shaker pint "Mixing Glasses" and has versions from 16 oz. up to 20 oz., as well as similar shaped units called "Cooler" 14 oz. and "Beverage" 12 oz. on Page 82, Restaurant Basics section, and then more styles, including more traditional "Beer glasses" in the following pages.


http://www.libbey.com/content/view/61/89/

Anonymous said...

I'll have to side with Lew's sentiment here, although i am certainly troubled by being shorted on a "pint" in a shaker glass. If i am out somewhere and discover that they serve Pliny the Elder (or insert something from your personal "must try" list here)in an orange juice glass, and the obvious choice is between the OJ glass and not drinking it at all, then i'm ordering the OJ glass, gladly. anyone who would actually turn down a beer b/c of the glass it's served in (within reason) should perhaps rethink their priorities.

Bart said...

Big ups on using the word cognoscenti, it says so much about where the beer world is heading. After following the blog for a while and trying the stone / ballast point collaboration session beer I realized that ABV is not the point, I can have a German style, half gallon Octoberfest style cup of that beer and be perfectly happy. However, there are times when chemistry gets in the way. I have a local pizza joint that serves Old Resputin in a shaker pint using N2 and I get a half pint-full of foam every time. When I visited North Coast they served it in a half-pint British style glass and it pored perfect every time (not to mention I was bale to navigate the road home afterward). Therefore, your hypothesis stands unless chemistry gets in the way of enjoyment. Cheers!

Russ said...

Maybe we just need two main options for beer glasses: "headed" and "headless" varieties. As a German beer lover who believes that those styles should be served with an ample head, it pains me when I get a shaker glass filled to the brim with zero head. At the same time, I totally understand that if they served the beer with the proper head they'd get yelled at by customers accusing the server of short-changing them. A mug with a fill line allows the customer to be sure they're getting their money's worth while still getting a proper pour for Hefeweizens, Pilsners, Bocks, etc.

Gary Gillman said...

Not a big fan of the shaker glass, I find the glass usually is too thick. Probably that was to minimize breakage and keep the beer colder. This applies okay to American light lagers, for which they were probably designed, but good ales and porters drink better out of an English sleeve I think.

One thing I don't like is labels. I like to see the beer in the glass (all of it). An unlabelled glass has a natural, plain elegance. The only exception I'll grant is for Belgian and some German beers, for which it seems a tradition. But ale and stout, and any kind of lager too, generally are best in the 20 oz. English sleeve, of which there are variations to be sure. I don't like them too wide-bodied. I always liked the dimpled handle glass but they are increasingly hard to find.

Gary

P.S. I dislike plastic glasses in the extreme except at sports events and concerts, where they seem to fit.

Anonymous said...

You state that Libbey's doesn't specify capacity for its glasses. Here is a link to the Libbey catalaog. EVERY glass has a listed capacity.

http://foodservice.libbey.com/catalogs/foodservice-glassware/catalog.html

Lew Bryson said...

They do have capacity for the glasses today; I checked in 2010 when I wrote that, and couldn't find it in the catalog. Thanks for the link.

(and I'll note that there are 16 and 18 oz. sizes of the glass in question!)

Boo-Urns said...

There was a side-by-side (-by-side-by-side-by-side) glassware tasting at the National Homebrewers Conference this year, and the shape of the glass made a HUGE impact on both the aroma and flavor of the beer. Be lazy if you want, you are free to drink your beer out of whatever glass / mug / red Solo cup you feel like at the time, but whenever possible the correct glassware makes all the difference in the world (and the standard Libby shaker glass is about the bottom of the barrel, really.)

Lew Bryson said...

Pardon my French, but what a steaming load. Tell me: how do you do a blind tasting comparison of glassware? Horsecrap.