A Few Words About Glassware

[Note: Sorry if any email / RSS subscribers get this post twice.  WordPress went a little wonky on me.]

katyKaty Hawkins is a food and beer aficionado in Portland, ME. She works at a laboratory in Southern Maine, and writes about specialty food and craft beer. Katy can be reached via e-mail or on Facebook.

I love beer. I was raised with it and will raise my currently imaginary children with it. I could take a bath in a large fermenter (with a Trappist Yeast strain) and feel as happy as if I had taken my first summer dip in the ocean.

spiegelauWhen I told Josh that I was planning on reviewing a beer for him, his first response was that I needed to give him some sort of profile, so here’s a brief “about me” before we get into the meat of this post and discuss what you’re actually here to read about. I am a scientist. A Chemist with a B.S. in Biology to be exact. I am 75% German. I love the ocean and if I could spend my days rowing, sailing, drinking and eating life would be utter perfection. When I say I was raised with beer, I do mean that literally. Beer was and is a sibling to me, treated with the utmost respect and revered over most else in my home.  I’ve known how to pour a beer like a Hofbräuhaus professional since about the age of 8 and wouldn’t dream of drinking a beer out of the bottle or from the wrong glass if I can help it. Ergo, with the segue inherent in that statement we move forward to the current case in point: glassware.

First, why do we even need to pour our beers from their bottles at all if they are bottled or bottle-aged beers? The aromas – and therefore the flavors – of the beer will not be fully developed if they are being drunk from the skinny, choking neck of a beer bottle. Beer needs to breathe! Air is just as critical to the life of a beer as it is to anything other living being. As beer is more alive than most people give it credit for, we need to allow it those first sweet breathes to fully appreciate its beauty.

glass_weizenNow that we’ve covered that all important detail, why does the glass itself matter to the flavor of the beer? Why can’t we all use cheap pint glasses chilled in our freezers for the instant gratification of ice cold beer? First, most beers (if not all) should not be ice-cold, though that’s a topic worthy of another post altogether.  Second (and here comes my inner science geek) when you flash-chill a glass it means that tiny particles of water are condensing and forming ice on the inside and outside of the glass. Would you put ice in your beer?  No.  So why would you introduce those small diluting particles to your glass?

Beyond letting the beer breathe outside the bottle, why is the shape of the glass itself important?  Essentially, the shape determines the development of the head of the beer which then determines the specifics of the aroma, this in turn, affects your taste buds.

For example, most goblet styles are used to maintain the head of the beer at a good thickness throughout its being consumed. Often, goblets are used for Belgian beers, as it allows their sweet strong flavor to be maintained without any sort of dilution by going flat too quickly. A Weizen Glass, which houses my favorite summer style, is critical for wheat (or weizen) beers. It leaves room for a large head which better expels and holds onto the banana, clove and honey flavors that exemplify the style.

2007_sam-adams-glassNot only is the science behind how the hop oils, alcohol and yeast strains react to the shape important to the development of taste of a beer; but also, we eat with our eyes first. When a beer keeps its gorgeous head during the duration of its enjoyment, it keeps its flavor longer. Beyond that, it also has a fresh presentation that makes it more enticing and makes the drinking more of an experience for the whole of one’s senses.

The specifics inherent in the art of choosing a glass can be lengthy and in-depth, and each beer has a glass that suits it best. In my travels to Germany I’ve found that most of the German, Bavarian and Belgian beers that I enjoy have their own specific glasses, and that these lend themselves well to any true beer geek’s collection. To find out more about your favorite style of beer and the glass that suits it, check out Beer Advocate‘s excellent glassware guide.

Next time: more about the beer and how temperature affects your brew (and, in turn, how you enjoy it). Until then, relish in what makes each beer you drink unique and special- PROST!

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3 responses to “A Few Words About Glassware

  1. Pingback: Southern Tier Oak-Aged Unearthly IPA | Brews and Books

  2. Pingback: American Craft Beer Fest Session 1 Postmortem | Brews and Books

  3. Pingback: Josh Christie » Beer Gear That Doesn’t Suck

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