Glassware for beer? Really??
Updated: May 9, 2019
Why you should always pour craft beer out, and other interesting notions...
The Beer Geek was wandering around Takashimaya and chanced upon something the Geek loves dearly, glasses. These were from Riedel’s “infamous” series of varietal wine glasses. While the Geek was admiring the craftsmanship of these glasses, Riedel beer glasses were spotted! The Geek already owned a full set of Spiegelau’s magnificently crafted craft beer glassware, but was intrigued nonetheless by Riedel’s creations. This started the Geek wondering just why high end glassmakers like Riedel and Spiegelau are jumping in head first into glassware for beer.
The answer, as it turns out, is clear (rimshot please).
You get it...if you like what you see, you’ll like what you taste.
There is empirical evidence to suggest that we first taste with our eyes. This is the reason that fruit is brightly colored, why cooks bother with presentation, and why beer gradually became served in clear glass vessels instead of ones made of wood, horn, or stone. Japanese cuisine, especially in the preparation of kaiseki, pays fastidious attention to presentation because Japanese chefs and cooks recognize the power of visual appeal in setting expectations and priming the sub-conscious to heighten the sense of smell and then taste. The ingredient is central to the entire meal, and the entirety of the chef’s experience, skill, and knowledge is directed toward highlighting the delights and charms of a seasonal ingredient in each transformative element of a kaiseki menu. You get it...if you like what you see, you’ll like what you taste.
There are at least 1,400 volatile aroma and flavor compounds in beer
Beer is no less intriguing as an ingredient for a complete sensual experience. Beer like harvested produce is in fact a natural product, with the brewer being more of a facilitator than a creator. It is after all, the product of natural processes which are carefully curated and guided by the brewer to be the best that it can be. It is just as deserving of careful handling, fresh service, and proper presentation as a foraged cep, sun-ripened melons, artisanal cheeses, or uni harvested at the peak of the season. This is not hyperbole or overstating the charms of beer. There are at least 1,400 volatile aroma and flavor compounds in beer, most of which are imperceptible to conscious taste or smell, but which conspire to help the human brain understand that the beer being consumed is somehow more than just malt, water, and hops. A lot of credit for this mystique must be laid at the feet of the humble yeast. Yeast is responsible for fermentation which is how these intriguing, tasty and satisfying aromatics end up in the finished beer. Depending on the strain of yeast, the aromatics and volatiles produced can vary quite widely explaining the extensive flavor vocabulary of beer, and why beer is the perfect companion to food and why cooks and chefs all over the world are discovering the alchemy of pairing beer with a menu featuring fresh seasonal ingredients.
This brief visual appraisal will do more to augment your entire beer experience than you will ever consciously know.
This starts to explain why it is a good idea to pour out an expertly crafted beer, the act of pouring out into an open container allows the beer to breathe. Yes, you read correctly, a beer becomes itself when it’s allowed to breathe, not as elaborately as wine, but breathe it should if you aim to enjoy ALL of a beer’s charms. This brief aeration and containment in the glass is the golden opportunity that all those volatile aromatics have been waiting for to escape the confines of compressed containment to find their way into the eager open arms of your senses. This is a great time to look at and appreciate the color of the beer, how the bubbles rise lithely to the surface to be part of that beautiful foamy head. This brief visual appraisal will do more to augment your entire beer experience than you will ever consciously know. So, please look longingly and appreciatively at your beer before that first sip, both the beer and you will be the better for it.
Finally, you’ll notice that there are different specialty beer glasses just like there are wine glasses for different grape varietals. The widest and finest range, in the Geek’s opinion, being from Spiegelau. You might think it’s already going too far for the Geek to urge you to pour every beer into a glass, and that if you agree that this is indeed a good idea, the American shaker pint is a reasonable, sturdy, quotidian choice. So why the need for glasses with different shapes and sizes. Ok, not to geek out here, but quite simply the glasses are designed to show off the carbonation level, and augment the flavor and aroma characteristics of different beer style families. You’ll notice that all of the glasses essentially have a bowl of sorts. This allows the beer to breathe and then for those volatile aroma compounds we talked about earlier, to concentrate at the narrower top of the bowl to be better appreciated when you sniff for aroma or whenever you take a sip. The shaker pint while a perfectly serviceable beer glass does not lend itself to aroma concentration as handily.