Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beer etchings: ultimate beer glass?

The ubiquitous straight-sided pint glass is probably one of the worst glasses from which to taste a beer.

You can't get your nose into it to smell anything, that is unless you want a foamy beer mustache. Aroma rapidly dissipates out of the glass. The design is quotidian.

The opposite tack is taken by many breweries, especially Belgian. Glasses of a myriad of shapes and sizes are said to be uniquely designed to enhance the flavor of a beer of a specific brewery. (The crystal glass manufacturer Riedel takes this to even more ludicrous, and correspondingly expensive, extremes for wine.)

Much of this is scientific hooh-hah, but marketing delight. The esthetics of a glass can indeed enhance the visual appeal of its contents.

But I prefer a snifter as my all-purpose tasting glass. The stem keeps my grubby hands from warming the beer ... unless I wish to. The large bowl allows the aromas to escape and mingle; the narrower neck focuses and traps those aromas, if at least momentarily. And don't fill to the brim. Allow top space: no splashing when the beer is swirled to release the aromatics, and room for a nose to inhale.

At my beer sampling demonstrations in beer shops, I bring my own glassware: 3.5 ounce liqueur glasses. Like snifters, they similarly concentrate the aromas, while allowing nose space. The small half-ounce sampling pours don't appear so minuscule in them.

Don't serve beer in a plastic cup. Plastic retards head retention, and deleteriously influences flavor.

Brews Brothers Steve Frank and Arnie Meltzer once wrote an entire article for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News in which they compared many types of, and brewery-specific, beer glasses.

English beer blogger Zythophile has this interesting post on English beer glasses: A short history of beer glasses.

the “Nonik” has to be the ugliest, least attractive container to drink beer from ever forced upon a sullen public – it does nothing at all for the aesthetic qualities of the liquid it contains.

Boston Beer Company (makers of Samuel Adams) released its ultimate beer glass a few months ago, to great buzz in the beer geek world. You should have seen the comments fly on DC-Beer, a listserve of beer enthusiasts in the DC-Baltimore-Richmond area!

The Sam Adams glass was designed with a twisting bulbous shape to ensnare aromas. And slight imperfections were etched near the inside bottom. The fancy phrase for these is 'nucleation points'.

In a draft beer line, rough spots in a beer line cause turbulence. The CO2 breaks out in the line, and the result is foam spitting out of the tap. Not good.

In a glass, a small scratch (the nucleation point) provides the break-out point for a steady stream of bubbles. That's good.

Carbonation is its own flavor element. In water (or beer), carbon dioxide partially breaks down into carbonic acid, adding acidic interest/bite to a beer. Carbonation provides a tactile bite. We sense this as a crispness, and complain that this bite is missing when a beer is flat.

But most germane, carbonation is a flavor enhancer. Aromatic compounds are physically lifted upon a stream of bubbles from the glass to our noses. That's another reason a flat beer can taste insipid. It has no aroma.

So how special - really - is this über-glass?

I haven't tried one yet. But, Speaking of Beer blogger Charlie the Beer Guy did, and created a real-time podcast on the experience.

Plot spoiler: he liked it.

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