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.

What I Learned from A-B InBev (in a Good Way!)

I spent much of last week in Las Vegas, sampling local beers, visiting beer destinations and other places on the Strip, wandering the aisles of the Nightclub and Bar Show, and finally speaking at the VIBE Conference.

But I didn’t just pontificate at VIBE, I also attended a very interesting seminar of draught beer technology presented by Cian Hickey of Anheuser-Busch InBev. My takeaway from that particular session had little to do with what comes out of the taps, though, and much more to do with how beer behaves in the bottle. Allow me to elaborate.

As a beer educator and aficionado, I am regularly encouraging people to drink from glassware rather than from the bottle or can, usually supporting my position by explaining the role of aroma and appearance in taste. Silly me! Hickey and his A-B InBev co-presenters did a much better job illustrating the superiority of a glass by engaging the audience in one simple little experiment.

Using the premise that it takes about six swallows to drain the beer from a 12 ounce bottle, the A-B crew gave us each a bottle of beer and two cups, inviting us to fill one of the cups with about six or so ounces of beer. We then sampled the beer in its freshest and most drinker-friendly state before replicating the effect of drinking from the bottle by passing the beer between the two cups six times. (The idea being that each time the bottle 0r can is hoisted to the drinker’s lips the beer is re-agitated, perhaps not quite as aggressively as if it were poured from one container to another, but surely a near approximation.) After the sixth transfer, we tasted the beer again, to find that it was now fairly flat and, frankly, kind of gross. Were we drinking from the bottle, that would have been our final impression of the beer’s flavour.

The beauty of this experiment, aside of course from how wonderfully it demonstrates the superiority of drinking from a glass over a bottle or can, is that it can be repeated with any sort of beer at any time. Try it, and I bet you’ll think twice before you drink straight from the bottle again.



Sh*t Bartenders Do (But Shouldn’t), Pt. 1

1. It’s a given, I think, that martinis should be stirred and not shaken, but I understand that some easily influenced souls actually prefer a diluted, cloudy mess in their martini glass. Still, when I specifically ask you to stir rather than shake my martini, please ONLY stir it. Don’t give it a stir and then plop it into one of those precious tiny shakers for a good shaking up at the table.

2. A Manhattan contains sweet vermouth, and a sizable amount of it, at that. Please do not mix my Manhattan as if it were a very dry martini.

3. I accept that you may be a very clean-minded individual who washes their hands regularly, but I don’t know that as fact. So please don’t hold my beer glass by the lip when you’re pouring my draft beer. I have to drink from that thing.

4. And speaking of draft beer, when the foam you have poured off one pint settles in a separate glass, it becomes flat beer, NOT beer that is suitable for using to top up my pint.

5. If I ask for a call brand of booze that I can plainly see on your back bar, please believe me that it’s there and what I want. Do not stare at me as if I’m some sort of idiot because you don’t have enough professionalism to actually know the brands your bar stocks.

Gift Idea #6: New Belgium’s “Glass That Gives”

Off all the proprietary glassware that has been developed by North American breweries, the New Belgium glass is one of my favourites. Stylish and shapely, it is well-suited to any number of different beer styles and delivers the aromatics of its contents most ably. Plus, you don’t look like a geek drinking from it.

It stands to figure, then, that I would highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, preferably in the 16 ounce format. But New Belgium has made it just that much better still.

Order a holiday gift-pack of two glasses, winterized for shipping, and New Belgium will donate a dollar to one of four charities. What’s more, you even get to select which charity you would like your contribution to benefit. You can’t get much fairer than that!

(Re)Considering Duvel

I am no apologist for the now-number two Belgian brewer, Duvel Moortgaat.  (Number one is, of course, Anheuser-Busch InBev, also the world’s largest brewing company.) The brewery has grown considerably over the past several years and is now publicly traded, which for some growing breweries has proved detrimental. Not all of this growth has been kind to the beers they oversee — my last experience with Liefmans was truly lamentable — but some of it has been overwhelmingly positive, as with the improvements in the Chouffe line and the purchase of De Koninck, which almost certainly saved the Antwerp brewery from eventual closure.

(I should mention that while one-quarter of Duvel Moortgat is indeed in play on the market, three-quarters of the company ownership still rests with the Moortgat family, who insist they have no interest in selling.)

What I am and remain, however, is a fan of the beer, Duvel. While I have experienced some issues with it over the past few years — its bottle-fermentation seemed notably less aggressive for a while, to cite one example — the last several bottles I have enjoyed have all been, well, thoroughly enjopyable.

Which is why I had to laugh at the following lines from this Wall Street Journal story:

At the Delirium, Brussels’s biggest and best-known beer bar, barmen say that on most nights, Duvel is among its 10 top selling beers. And pricing power is apparent. A glass costs €3.35, compared with €2 for a draft lager. “They’re very good at marketing, and tourists recognize it from all the signs they have up around Brussels,” says Thibault Cordonnier, a bartender at the Delirium. “Also, people like the name, Devil. We have another beer, called Lucifer, that sells very well.”

To be sure, the enthusiasm is not totally unanimous. “If somebody asks us for a recommendation, we’ll suggest something from a smaller, more artisanal brewer,” says Mr. Cordonnier. “The barmen here, who are all experts, don’t really drink Duvel anymore. We think it’s only slightly better than a Stella Artois.” Stella Artois is one of Anheuser’s top-selling beers in the world.

Forget the extraordinary cheek of comparing Duvel to Stella, of all things, a beer about which I made my feelings known over here. How about the hypocrisy of a bartender at a bar named for one of Duvel’s many imitators slagging a brand that is unquestionably superior to the bar’s namesake pretender? And I say this as an admirer of Delirium Tremens, which I have always maintained is better than its kitschy bottle and glass would have you expect.

(Then there’s the notion that the bartenders at the Delirium Cafe would recommend anything, which to my several experiences has certainly never been the case. On my last visit, I watched as three bartenders ignored a middle aged couple desperately trying to decipher the beer menu, even though the gentleman had all but pleaded for some direction. Less helpful or “expert” bartenders I have rarely witnessed.)

To me, this is just another case of a brewery being deemed “bad” simply because it had the audacity to grow. It’s one of the more troublesome paradoxes of craft beer today.

Reflections on Beer at the Ballpark

I went to see the series opener at Toronto’s Skydome – it’ll be a cold day in hell before I call it the Rogers Centre – on Friday night, courtesy of my loving wife. The seats were good, the game exciting and the usually staid Toronto crowd a little more into it that usual. Plus, Bautista came within a single of hitting for the cycle.

Then there was the beer.

I had heard in advance that there were apparently two stands selling Steam Whistle Pilsner, brewed within spitting distance of the dome, somewhere on the 100 level, where our seats were located. There were not, or at least not so far as I could find in a complete circuit of the concessions. (Anyone from Steam Whistle, if I missed where your beer is sold, please let us all know before the next home series.)

Finally, in desperation and significant thirst, and unwilling to buy a bottle of freakin’ filtered Dasani water for almost five bucks, I dropped over twice that amount on a can of Stella Artois, what I thought was a disappointing but still passable alternative. I paid for my beer and went to grab a plastic cup to pour it into, but was stopped by the beer server, who told me that the cups are counted and that she could get into trouble if there was one missing.

So, $10.25 for a can of Stella, more than 4 times retail price, and I am denied even a plastic cup from which to drink! Great customer service there, Dome.

Now, onto the beer, which was terrible! Like Pete Brown, I have memories of Stella which now seem terribly divorced from reality. I used to defend it as a decent thirst-quencher, if you drank one and only one glass. (The follow up was always a disappointment.) For whatever other faults it might boast, it had a generally dry character and sufficient hop appeal to counteract that sickly, cloying cereally character that I find pervades the majority of globally marketed beers.

No longer.

The can I had was a complete mess in terms of its flavour profile, and that I could tell even by drinking directly from from said can. (God knows what it would have tasted like in the cup. Maybe that’s why the Dome refused me one.) The hop flavours, where present, were severely disjointed and the malt profile suggested an extended lagering time of, oh, ten or twelve hours. Morbid curiosity propelled me to continue drinking and, as the beer warmed, the faults grew progressively and predictably worse. By two-thirds gone – and I was hardly nursing it – it was pretty revolting.

So, my reflections on beer at the Skydome are as follows: expensive, poorly served, lousy selection, and awful tasting.

How TO Pour a Beer (Really!)

Yes, Thursday’s video is a disaster, but moving along YouTube’s beer pouring files, I find that there actually exist helpful tutorials on how to pour beer properly, from both draught tap and bottle.

Here’s a good draught primer, notwithstanding that he does a curious two-step pour for a lager and that, because of his accent, I hear “bee” every time he says “beer.” He does get extra credit, though, for emphasizing the keeping of the spout away from both beer and glass lip.


And here is Magnolia Brewing’s Dave McLean with a pretty good overview on how to pour from the bottle.


More 2009 in Review

I have but a single beer paraphernalia weakness, and it’s glassware. Years ago I had a cabinet made specifically to hold only my beer glasses – each and every one of which I use, incidentally – and its special limit is the only thing that keeps my fondness for glassware from getting entirely out of control.

Given such limitations, you would be correct if you presumed that it takes a special glass to boot out one of the existing collection, and in 2009, several such vessels arrived in my home. Only one, however, will I single out as Beer Glass of the Year, and it is…

Sam Adams Utopias!

As if to make up for their still widely publicized but, let’s face it, consummately unattractive tasting glass, Boston Beer teamed with Riedel to create a fine-lipped and heavy-based glass that is perfect for their 27% alcohol Utopias. And supported their effort by releasing what is, to my mind and taste buds, by far the finest edition of the strong ale thus far crafted.