Let’s talk about glassware

I‘ve never really been that into beer glassware.

My reasoning has always been thus: As with most things where I feel beer is being fawned over in an overly-precious way, fussing about glassware seemed to me to be just another way to detract from the best part of drinking beer, namely that it’s fun.

Whether it be contriving expensive classes that are meant to quantify our appreciation of beer, making products to protect them from the sun during the 20 minutes they’re in our glass, or inventing laser-cut crystal glasses that enhance specific styles of beer, my instinct when we put beer on too high a pedestal is typically to go a big rubbery one. “Lighten up,” I’d say to literally no one in particular. “It’s beer.”

IMG_6328And so glassware has always been something toward which I’ve intentionally taken the Luddite’s approach. There was even a time when I embraced the dreaded shaker pint as my “go to” glass for every single beer style because, hey, fuck you, that’s why.

Lately though, even the shaker has is gone from my collection and, instead, I bought myself a case of mason jars at Home Hardware from which I now mostly drink all my beer. I see it not only as a means of having one less thing to worry about when I want to pour a beer (“Where the hell is my MUSKOKA BREWERY BRANDED TULIP, CYNTHIA?!”), but also a means to level the playing field: every beer I drink/evaluate gets the same treatment–A perfectly ordinary jar.

As you might imagine, among the certified stout-sniffing beer media and passionate beer makers with whom I occasionally hob my nob, this makes me something of an outcast.

“Ben,” they’re wont to say, stroking their beard/hairless cat. “Glassware makes a HUGE difference.”

But really? I always wondered. I mean, really? How much difference can a glass make?

Well recently, after one too many tongue-lashings from knowledgeable beer folk about my propensity for jam jars, I opted to find out.

As you may or may not have seen in yesterday’s print edition of the Globe and Mail, I opted to finally put the glassware question toIMG_6355 rest by means of an article in which I sought out what seems to be the best beer glassware on the market (the “designed-in-collaboration-with-renowned-breweries” Spiegelau craft beer collection), and pitted them against the ol’ mason jar in a side-by-side comparison. (Here’s a lopsided scanned version of the article  if you’re too cheap to buy a newspaper you print-media-murdering-millenial, you).

As you’ll see if you read the brief article, it turns out I may have been missing out all this time.

Now, I didn’t want to wade into the debate over the motives or intentions of Spiegelau’s glassware again, because that largely happened already in the beer-blogosphere when the first glass in this collection, the IPA glass, was released in 2013 (see below if you want to get into it). Instead, I opted to test the glasses based solely on their professed merits and my perception of whether or not they actually improved my enjoyment of a beer.

And without a doubt, these glasses did.

All three of the glasses I tested for the Globe (the IPA glass, the stout glass, and the American wheat glass) seemed to, at the very least, enhance my perception of each beer’s aromas, and surely even the least sophisticated beer drinker can see how being able to more thoroughly appreciate subtle and complex aromas in your glass will make your beer drinking experience better. These glasses won’t make a bad beer good, I concluded, but they will make drinking a great beer better.

But there is one other thing I only touched on briefly in that article and it’s that it seems to me that, if you believe you’re having a better beer drinking experience, than you are. That is, even if you don’t agree with me that these glasses actually change the beer-drinking experience, if someone simply thinks pouring a beer into a Spiegelau glass makes it taste better, they’re going to enjoy their beer more from a Spiegelau glass. If you think beer is best served from glassware that is branded with the logo of the brewery that  makes the beer, you’re going to enjoy beer more from properly branded glassware. If you think beer tastes better in jars you bought for $10 a case at the hardware store, then beer in jars is going to taste better to you.

Well, maybe not that last one, but basically what I’ve discovered is that, maybe there is some merit to fussing over beer a little.

In addition to the craft beer collection I tested, I was also lucky enough to get to try the Spiegelau “beer classics” collection. Designed with an eye toward more traditional glass shapes as opposed to pursuing any scientific method to improve beer, these glasses also seemed to improve my beer drinking experience. Yes, there was probably some “science” involved here with thin glass helping to retain temperature and the laser cut rim “delivering” beer to my mouth in a more effective way, but science aside, drinking a beer from a well-made, attractive glass when compared with my chunky mason jar was just…well, nicer.

And so call me a flip-flopper if you want, but I’m now willing to admit that good glassware really does make a difference–even the stuff that wasn’t made with help from a well-known American Craft Brewery. I’ll still always have a fondness for my jars, but when I crack a bottle or can of the good stuff now, I’ll likely be reaching for the Spiegelau glasses.


IPABack in 2013 when Spiegelau unveiled the first glass in the craft beer collection (their IPA glass, pictured here), it was not without controversy. Opinions were varied on the merits of such an endeavour and a debate of sorts was sparked among people who care about such things thanks largely to a facebook post by beer and spirits writer Lew Bryson, whom you’ll likely know as the author behind the excellent blog Seen Through a Glass. Bryson essentially dismissed the glass as “prescriptive bullshit” and many agreed with him.Shortly thereafter, Stephen Beaumont, the calm elder statesman of Ontario beer, urged everyone not to get their shorts in a knot over glassware in a post on his blog which was appropriately titled “Shorts in Knots Over Glassware.” Mr. Beaumont wisely suggested we let people drink however they like and professed his own preference for branded glassware.

TIME magazine then ran an article on this glass in which a commenter posited that this “new” glassware seemed mighty similar to wine glasses made by Riedel, the parent company of Spiegelau.  That comment caught the eye of Alan McLeod, beer writing’s perennial curmudgeon-in-residence, and he opted to run a post on his blog wherein he ran an image of the IPA glass and the Riedel wine glass side by side. Following Mr. McLeod’s lead, a large portion of the beer world called shenanigans.

The resulting “uproar” (if you can call blogging about glassware such a thing) was noticeable enough that Dogfish Head, the Delaware brewery who helped make this glass, actually issued a statement to clarify matters. Essentially what they had to say was that Spiegelau brought all manner of existing glasses to the table to try to shape the prototype IPA glass and among them was the Riedel wine glass, which initially led to the slightly different design that ended up being the IPA glass.

7 thoughts on “Let’s talk about glassware

  1. Did a tour of the Sam Adams a few years ago. In the tour, they talked about how they partnered up with a university trading beer for them to design a glass for their Boston Lager at the time. Very interesting to see the science behind why it was designed the way it was. (I remember them saying that they made the base walls thicker so that the heat from your hand doesn’t warm the beer up).

    1. Ha. All the “science” I’ve read says thicker glass walls actually have the inverse effect and serve to warm your beer.

  2. Ben
    Good to see this finally in print since we last spoke about this.
    There is is a term in the the wine industry referred to as “drinking the label”. It also applies here. In summary; the glass, the surroundings (studies have shown painted wall colours matter), a nice label, all contribute to your increased enjoyment of your beverage. And why wouldn’t you want to increase the enjoyment of your beverage.
    I’m a big fan of having the best glass to highlight my beverage (mostly whisky).
    Thanks for putting in the various links to references.

  3. A la Jack Carter in “Get Carter” I think “a pint of bitter….in a thin glass” tastes far better than in those ugly knobbly things with handles and that in general beers taste better in the fine glass of my Westvleteren chalice rather than any old glass.
    The difference is like tea served in fine bone china or a paper cup in my opinion.

  4. The Spiegelau glasses are all well and good until you have to wash them. Delicate things, they are. Bought a 4-pack two years ago. Still have one left

  5. Good article, Ben. I find even Spiegelau’s generic “Craft Beer Glasses” make an incredible difference to the beer.

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