Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beer Glassware: Moving Far Beyond The Frosted Mug

Back at the beginning of June, Stan Hieronymus and Alan McLeod, two of the beer world's most followed and respected beer writers/bloggers, brought up the subject of the (then) forthcoming 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis, IN. 

Alan asked who planned to go and, in a round about way, why one might be drawn to it. Stan asked whether the conference content was sufficient to really improve the content of one's blog and wondered aloud what it is that bloggers should learn in order to get better at blogging.

I weighed in on the conversation with a half-assed answer, suggesting that the indirect benefits were more likely to be of value to me.  I threw in a line about the glassware session:
"I’m entirely curious at the comparative beer/glass tasting put on by Spiegelau, since I’m one to think different glassware doesn’t make much of a difference. Other than giving me content for a single blog post explaining my findings, that’s not going to do anything for regular posts." 
Stan commented back with this: "I predict you will declare the beer/glass tasting worth the cost of the trip. It could change future posts in many ways."

Although not convinced, I'll admit Stan's comment stuck with me as I approached the conference a month later.

On the Saturday of the conference we returned to the meeting room following an excellent beer lunch to find 100 sets of gleaming glassware lining the tables. The glasses were placed upon a paper place mat with labels for each of the glasses.  The four Spiegelau glasses - tall pilsner, wheat, lager and tulip - were pitted against the standard American bar pint glass. 

Spiegelau USA's rep (dapperly dressed, in stark contrast to us participants) gave the enthusiastic company schpeal on the 500 year history of Spiegelau, the superiority of the silica used in the glass, the optical purity of the glassware . . . . . . thank goodness the info was delivered enthusiastically . . . . . and instructed us on the tasting method.

To state the obvious, it helps to use great beer when comparing the effects of different glassware.  On that front we had the bases well covered.  Brooklyn Brewery's Brewmaster and authority on all things beer, Garret Oliver, was in the house pouring Brooklyn's brews:  Sorachi Ace (Saison), Weisse Beer, East India Pale Ale and Local 2 (Belgian-ish Dark Ale).

We were instructed to pour half the bottle into the standard pint glass and the other half into the glass designated for the beer.  We tested the aroma in the Spiegelau glass first, followed by the pint glass.  Next, the flavor in the Spiegelau glass followed by the flavor in the pint glass.  We repeated the process through the four beers, paying attention to color, temperature, head retention, and the like throughout the process.

One word sums it up:  eye-opening. Or does the hyphen make that two words?  Never mind.

Every aspect of the Spiegelau glass was superior to the standard pint.  No shocker there, but it was the extent of the difference which really caught my attention.  Bright, distinct aromas flowed from the glasses. The shape and thinness of the glass seemed to direct the beer right to the best spots for appreciating the flavors.  Head retention was excellent (not surprising given they were brand new, clean glasses).  Effervescence was distinctly noticeable and certainly contributed to those bright aromas and flavors. Though significantly thinner, the Spiegelau glasses kept the beer colder even many minutes after the pour.

When smelling the Weisse beer in the Spiegelau glass I immediately detected banana and smoke flavors.  I commented to a fellow participant that I must be missing something only to hear Garret ask if we were detecting the banana and smoke flavors.  Score!

Aromas were muted or difficult to detect in the pint glasses, colors were diminished, flavors were reduced or absent, and the beer warmed much faster. My ability to detect effervescence was much reduced. In contrast to the Spiegelau glasses, the pint glass actually got in the way of appreciating the beer. 

Just when we thought we were done, Garret motioned to the back of the room for another surprise:  bottles of Black Ops, Brooklyn's highly appreciated and crazy good barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout.  I didn't bother pouring any of this one into the pint glass.  It was all tulip.

Comparing the beer/glasses was like having the optometrist dial in your vision after squinting through old lenses for a couple of years.  Sure, you could see most of what's out there, but you were missing the gloriously fine details. 

Stan was right.  The comparative glass tasting event may very well have been worth the cost of the trip.

I don't know that the experience will change future blog posts in many ways since I'm not one to do many beer reviews, but my personal beer world certainly opened up. I won't be throwing out my trusty 'ole British pint glasses any time soon, but when tasting a special beer or treating myself to a favorite, you can bet I'll reach for the Spiegelaus.

Are they the best beer glasses ever?  I don't know since I've only compared them against the standard bar pint and not against other specialty beer glasses.   I do know this: they rock.

And, hey, Spiegelau, if you're listening I recommend two changes to your presentation. First, don't label the place for the pint glass as the "joker" glass.  Before the beer even starts pouring, you're telling us it's an inferior experience.  We already presume that since you're taking the poor bastard on, but it reads like a cheap trick that devalues the presentation. Second, during the presentation, don't tell us what we're about to experience in the way of aromas and flavors before we take a drink out of each glass. Let us discover the difference on our own.  You were right, but it's more fun for all involved to experience it first and discuss it second.

Cheers to a great beer experience.

8 comments:

  1. Great write up. I totally agree about the "joker glass" assessment. It's a pint glass or a shaker glass. It's okay to call it that. I already own these glasses and they are durable. I think the quality stands up to the price point if you are encouraging someone to buy them. They are worth it. Also, my local gourmet food market/wine and beer shop sells them as singles. So if you wanted an extra tulip to have around - you could buy one! Great work and it was fab meeting you!

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  2. Thanks Tamre! Great meeting you as well and thanks for all your help with the organization. I will definitely be on the lookout for a couple more tulips and probably the lager as well. Such a nice experience.

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  3. The reason he told you what you were smelling is a marketers trick. Using those buzz words make your brain think it is smelling something it isn't. It helps his presentation. Try it on a unsuspecting friend. It works.

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  4. Anon: Quite true, which is why I politely suggested changing that part of the presentation. As I noted here:

    http://growlerfills.blogspot.com/2012/07/buying-bias-does-sponsorship-play-too.html

    most of the group in attendance at the presentation are naturally inquisitive and generally suspect of marketing. I understand the person doing the Spiegelau presentation at the European conference did as I suggest and let the participants learn for themselves. It's a more powerful marketing technique with a group like this.

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  5. Nice review of the tasting. Last night I repeated the tasting with my wife. She was as surprised as most of us were.

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  6. Kendall: Though I said I was going to put the glasses aside for special brews, I couldn't resist pulling out the lager glass to use with some of my go-to standards. One whiff of the aroma and I thought, "crap, Spiegelau is about to get more of my money."

    I'm hoping to repeat the tasting with a few of my tasting group members soon.

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  7. There's a reason most beers across Europe are served in a specific glass for that type of beer. Interestingly, it's not always for taste alone, but sometimes presentation as well, such as with a cascading beer (think nitro) that looks much more impressive in a tall, skinny glass than a smaller, wider glass. Hopefully breweries will catch wind of this and start pursuing appropriate glassware to serve their pints in! Great article.

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  8. Beer glasses come in many different shapes and sizes, and knowing which beer glass goes with which beer not only makes you look like a beer connoisseur but will make the beer you're drinking taste even better.

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