Tuesday, October 26, 2010
An Idea That Doesn't Hold Water
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.