Shorts in Knots Over Glassware

If you’re read my previous post, the one about not stealing beer glasses, then likely you’ll also know that Sam Calagione and Ken Grossman and a few others have come up with a new glass designed, they say, for the drinking of IPA. And certain people, including my good friend Mr. Lew Bryson, have reacted rather badly to it.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Lew railed on his Facebook page, “More prescriptive bullshit about how we’re supposed to drink our beer.” That little post garnered, at last count, 76 “likes” and 83 comments in two days, the majority of which were in agreement. One commenter even went so far as to maintain that “(s)tuff like this is ruining the experience of enjoying the beer itself, I believe.”

Me, I’m of two minds. As anyone who regularly or even occasionally reads these missives will know, I’m a great proponent of glassware, but more on the side of aesthetics than function. I hate the “shaker” pint glass because I think it’s ugly and presents the beer poorly – any beer, from IPA to Trappist ale to mass-produced lager. I like the glasses I keep sequestered in a dedicated cabinet because they look good and thus enhance my beer-drinking – or cocktail sipping or wine supping or spirits enjoying – experience. In my occasional role as hospitality industry consultant, I advise against the shaker because I feel its use is a false economy and ultimately detrimental to beer sales.

Whether the shaker makes the beer inside taste inferior to, say, a chalice or a nonic pint or Lew’s favourite Willi Becher, I do not know. I should probably do some research into it, but how does one objectively analyze flavour out of glassware without at least laying one’s hand upon the glass and so influencing one’s perception in some small fashion?

(For the record, while I have not yet held the glass in question in my hand, my initial impression from the photos I have seen – like this one – is that it does not rate terribly high on the aesthetic scale. Better than the Boston Beer glass, for sure, but way below many other glasses, including pretty much every one currently residing in my cabinet.

However, the point is that its existence is harmless. No one is forcing anyone to drink out of it, and I seriously doubt that either Sam or Ken would refuse you a 60 Minute or Torpedo should you not have one handy. They are part of a trend I’ve been noting for some time, namely the fetishizing of beer drinking, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Does anyone need a fancy, flip-knife-style bottle opener when an ordinary church key or, in a pinch, a lighter or rolled up magazine will do the job? No. Do I need a cabinet filled with glassware, roughly two-thirds of which is devoted to beer? Definitely not. Should you feel bad because you want to serve IPA but only own pilsner and weissbier glasses? In heaven’s name, no!

Wine has been fetishized for years now – hands up everyone who owns a rabbit or rabbit-style corkscrew! – and the cocktail geeks are doing their best with that segment of drinks. And if you’re a whisky drinker, someone is trying to sell you rocks to put in your drink, for crying out loud!

Beer is no different, so enjoy it or not, as you wish. Buy the new IPA glass or ignore it, but don’t get bent so out of shape about it. It’s just a glass, not a massive conspiracy to take the joy out of beer drinking.

14 Replies to “Shorts in Knots Over Glassware”

  1. There is one form of harm if the word “harm” (or “harmless”) can actually apply to such a situation. It is the perception being disseminated that such a thing is required. When the proponents of this glass are people who also hold themselves out as being movers and… no, OK, no pun. If they hold themselves out as authorities then the glass become authorized. If, like me and as I know you think of yourself, you are immune to the false prophets hailing the next new era then there is no harm. But the marketplace of ideas gets sullied when those with loud voices promote silly ideas. This appears to be one of those ideas.

  2. I don’t understand the headline. Does “Shorts” = Shorts Brewing Company? I didn’t see them referenced in the article at all.

    Proper beer glassware definitely does serve a two-fold purpose of better aesthetics compared to the shaker/tumbler as well as delivering flavor and aroma and head retention. When breweries start taking it to the next level like this new IPA glass it’s more about trying to make a memorable glass than a truly utilitarian glass. The Boston Lager glass being a good example. I think it does make that beer (and lagers in general) look great. But the difference between that glass and a traditional lager glass (not a shaker) is probably negligible.

    The problem with beer glassware is that a lot of the effects that people (like me) swear by probably IS psychosomatic, but it’s difficult if not impossible to empirically prove. The only way to do blind tastings would be to have someone hold the glass for you while blindfolded, since holding the glass you’d be able to tell if it were a shaker or tulip of weizen glass, etc. But even then you’d be able to tell what it was from the shape of the glass on your lips. I prefer the comfort of a flared rim like the tulip rather than the concave shape of a shaker or even a goblet.

    1. Getting one’s shorts in a knot, or knickers in a twist, is just say a saying, Chad, nothing to do with the brewery. It means getting all worked up, usually over nothing.

  3. I see nothing wrong with these developments. It all goes to publicizing beer, and in this case very good beer, which is a good thing. Some will take it more seriously than others, and that’s fine.

    I’m okay with most glasses. My main criterion is ease of holding but I don’t really like branded vessels, which have taken over in a lot of places. Somehow the markings interfere with my appreciation of the beer, you can’t see the pour and colour as well (same thing but more so for porcelain mugs) and, well, there is just something about it I don’t like. Belgian and German branded glasses are different because there is a tradition there for some beers or in some areas. We had a different one here and I saw no reason to change it.

    By the way, any drinker can, once the beer descends enough, or with a second glass provided by the staff, aerate the beer himself. I often do this to reduce excess carbonation. The beveled edges of the new glass mentioned in the WSJ article would I am sure aerate the beer somewhat, but you can do it yourself. Also, what if the beer being poured is cask? Then you don’t want to reduce (usually) the carbonation. And some keg beers just pour light on carbonation… So I’m not sure on balance about the new glass but it can’t do any harm and it helps draw attention to craft beer.


  4. The glass makes all the difference no matter how you look at it. I’m behind anyone, who attempts to provide a better beer glass than the dreaded shaker pint (I’m with you on this, Stephen). For me, the glass is a major part of the beer enjoyment equation. Bring on the glassware!

  5. I really don’t think glassware makes that much of a difference, and when I tried a single growler of Victory Prima Pils from every type of glass I own, the differences were minute.

    Personally I like to drink from a nonic or a Czech style glass (not sure if it has a proper name, it’s just a glass in the Czech Republic).

    My problem with the fetishisation of beer is that it seems to try and take beer away from its natural constituency, the normal, everyday human being and put it in aspirational middle class world with chunky knit sweaters and Volvos (if you’ve never seen Billy Connolly talk about why the working class and aristocracy are basically the same, I recommend it).

  6. I have a fairly large glass collection and I enjoy drinking beers from their matched glasses. (I don’t drink IPA, if that makes any difference.) I don’t do this because the beer tastes better, but because it is similar in concept to looking at snapshots of travel – it gives a visual reminder of the place where I’ve drunk the beer (usually foreign).

  7. Interesting… I find the shaker pint glass to be a simply great choice: perfectly functional and agnostic with respect to class of its content or consumer. The English nonic pint glass and the dimpled mug are also favorites, but I personally find that other shapes, especially glasses with a rim that is thin or smaller in diameter than the rest of the vessel, can be quite uncomfortable to drink from, especially for session beers.

  8. Despite being a massive advocate of ‘correct’ glassware – i find your word ‘Harmless’ perfect. It’s a new thing to sell, is all. If a SN or DFH Fan wants to buy the thing, then fine. BrewDog did a similar thing with their Teku glass. I have an over-sized PInt glass that I use for almost all of my IPA’s – it’s perfect. Like a pair of old slippers ; a trusted friend.

  9. While I agree with you that this new glass is nothing to get worked up about, I am glad that it exists and see it as a positive addition to the US craft beer landscape.
    I haven’t had the opportunity to test this specific glass but, based on my experience with sensory evaluation (& I think it’s common knowledge anyway,) I know that a straight or incurved rim helps to capture and/or amplify the perception of aromas in beer. Since aromatics are a key component of IPAs, it logically entails that this glass should be a better vessel for IPAs (or any beer for that matter) than the shaker pint, which is the glass that is currently associated with the American IPA & US craft beer in general.
    Will this glass revolutionize the beer drinker’s experience of IPAs? Probably not. Having said this, if I was a brewer and the hoppy IPAs (and all of the other beers) that I released were regularly served in a glass that doesn’t do beer any favours, I think I’d take the time to try to push a new shape of glassware that better highlighted the aromas and flavours of the beers that I brewed…

  10. Basically I agree with Mr. Bryson’s assessment.
    The new glass is dumb & fugly, but then again, no one’s holding a gun to my head to use these things, which are nothing but a marketing tool anyway. There’s already so much rampant B.S. about craft beer, that gimmicks like this can be ignored as well. Harmless is indeed a good descriptive.

    The best glass for any good beer is simply a glass that doesn’t leak.
    The main concern is (or should be) the quality of the beer itself.

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