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Can't see your beer? You may need glasses!
20 Mar 2021
A few months ago I began to watch the NetFlix series, Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood, at the urging of a couple of good friends of mine. Loosely based on historical fact, it takes place at the turn of the 20th Century and follows the efforts of Curt Prank, a brewer and ruthless businessman who intends to replace the traditionally small tasting rooms at Oktoberfest with a massive, 6,000 seat beer hall. The series is dark, sexy, intriguing and, ultimately, very entertaining. One critic called it "Deadwood in lederhosen" and said "it's a history of beer brewing in the same way as Breaking Bad is a chemistry lesson".
I particularly enjoyed the scenes inside the tasting rooms where thirsty German revellers hoisted massive stoneware beer steins while raucously singing their favourite drinking songs. Still, as a beer nerd, I was slightly annoyed that the steins didn't allow me to see the beer these people were enjoying. Was it a pale golden Helles, a dark brown Dunkel, a jet black Schwarzbier? One could only imagine.
In England, beer was drunk mostly from pewter tankards until the end of the Victorian Era. As pub lighting improved and beer began to be filtered glass beer mugs began to appear in the 1920's. At first, a ten sided glass mug was popular but, after World War II ended, a new, dimpled pint mug, which was said to resemble a hand grenade, became the standard. In the 1960's a new pint glass arrived. It was lighter and thinner with no handle. Such pints glasses remain popular, especially in British pubs. The classic Guinness pint glass approximates the shape.
When I was just getting started on my beer journey we often drank our beer straight from the bottle. We'd drink and belch and drink and belch, completely oblivious to the advantages of drinking beer from a glass. By pouring beer into a glass much of the carbon dioxide is released, forming a head. This means that far less gas is consumed by the drinker thus reducing the bloated belly many bottle (or can) drinkers suffer. It also allows you to see and smell what you're drinking. Since smell, as discussed in last month's column, accounts for much of taste it makes little sense to pay good money for great craft beers and then not fully enjoy what you are drinking.
There are almost as many styles of beer glasses as there are styles of beer. One website has a chart with pictures of 24 different beer glass styles. Even if a person could find all these glasses it is doubtful that any more than about half a dozen would get much use. I have quite a number of different style beer glasses in my collection but, to be honest, I only use four or five styles on any kind of regular basis. These styles include pilsner, tulip, weizen, snifter, and my beloved Spiegelau IPA glass.
If you often drink IPAs I would strongly suggest you invest in a Spiegelau IPA glass. Spiegelau is a Bavarian glass maker and designed this glass in collaboration with Sam Calagione (Dogfish Brewing) and Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing). It has ripples near the bottom and a balloon shaped upper chamber and is designed to force more hop aromatics out of the beer as you tilt it to drink.
Spiegelau has several styles of beer glasses in it's repertoire. They are all made from very thin glass which makes them somewhat delicate but a real pleasure to drink from. If you are ready to up your glass game I would suggest searching on the Alberta Beer Exchange website or in store. There are various glasses and combinations of glasses available for decent prices. I would recommend the Spiegelau Classic Tasting Kits as they contain the Classic IPA Glass as well as three other styles.
A final word on beer glass care. Never put your beer glasses in the dishwasher. Or, on the other hand, go ahead and put your beer glasses in the dishwasher. Some experts advise against it as dishwasher heat and detergent can etch your glasses over time and, unless loaded with great care, your delicate glasses can bang around, and possibly break. Other experts say the dishwasher is the only way to get your glasses absolutely clean.
Personally, I wash all my precious glassware by hand. It's a good idea to have a dedicated beer glass sponge that doesn't contain any residual grease or other schmutz from washing your dishes. It is also crucial to rinse your beer glasses extremely well with hot water. You don't want even the slightest trace of detergent which can affect not only taste, smell, and mouthfeel but also interfere with head formation and lacing (horizontal patterns left on the side of the glass as you drink). Additionally, it can cause patches of bubbles to form in areas where the inner surface of the glass is not perfectly clean.
You can let your glasses air dry upside down or dry them with a lint free towel. If you want beer glass perfection you can always polish your glasses with a little steam and a microfiber cloth.