The humble beer glass – the ultimate beer gadget

The humble beer glass – the ultimate beer gadget

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I have a confession to make. A dirty secret to share.

Yep, (big deep breath … aaaaaaaand … pshewwwwwww… ) I am a beer glass hoarder. There. I said it. I hoard beer glasses.

In my weekly summer beer column on the CBC Eyeopener last week, I chatted with fill-in host Rob Brown about beer gadgets and gifts for Father’s Day. You can listen to the interview here (fast forward to the 11:30 mark).

We discussed some pretty cool things that most beer-loving dads would go gaga over: the Growlerwerks growler (steampunk sexiness); a four-year vertical vintage pack from Cascade beer from Portland (big bold and complex); Brewdog’s crazy $1,000 a bottle 55% alcohol beer called The End of History that is served inside a taxidermied roadkill animal (I’ll just be having one beer tonight…); and, a brewery-hopping experience without the hassle of driving home with Calgary Brewery Tours.

I also panned the Picobrew homebrew system. Why? Because for a $1,000 machine plus $30 an ingredient pack to make just 5 litres of beer, you’re really better off buying a growler of decent craft beer from a local brewery that actually knows what they’re doing, every week for the next two years. While the Picobrew may be acceptable for the first few times – maybe even fun – that thing will clog up bench space like your juicer and your Keurig coffee machine and begin gathering dust faster than you can say “how on earth does such a tiny pack of ingredients cost so much”?

Anyway, back to my beer glass collection. I said when it came to gadgets, there is only one gadget that you really need, and that’s a fine set of beer glasses. It was top of mind as I’d just completed a stocktake of my personal collection at home and had counted 71 glasses. 71! And do you know how many I threw out as a result of that stocktake? None. I couldn’t.

They range in size from 4oz sampler glasses to a 30oz German weissbier vase. Some I bought, some were gifts, some came free with beer and some were gifted by friends (the Coors Light one is still in its box). I can’t bear to throw any of then out on the off-chance that I might, one day, have a Coors Light and need that branded glass.

I tend to gravitate to one or two as my go-to glasses; I am particularly fond of my pair of Unibroue stemmed tulip glasses, my single Spiegelau IPA glass (its mate died a nasty death along with the Dieu du Ciel Moralite IPA that it held, thanks to a gesticulating arm, sob sob) and a set of PC brand brandy snifters on sale at Superstore that do a stellar job of capturing all of a beer’s amazing aromas and sending them upwards to my sniffer.

That last point – the functionality of a glass that helps elevate a beer’s qualities – speaks to why I rated a good set of beer glasses as the ultimate beer gadget. I sense gadget geeks were expecting something really cool. Something that would be a game-changer. Something they’d never had before.

Well, I’d argue a good beer glass does tick those boxes. While a good beer glass doesn’t have bells and whistles, doesn’t require batteries, or a huge budget, and doesn’t flash red when the Flames score a goal, it serves a very important purpose. A good beer glass can elevate and average beer to good, and a good beer to great. It may sound like voodoo science, but a glass shape does impact the flavour and especially the aroma of a beer. You will have a better beer experience with a better glass.

That shaker pint that almost every north American bar serves beer in (you know the ones – they look like this) is pretty much the worst type of glass you can pour a beer into. The sides flare out, which allows the aromas to waft away in all directions and kills your head retention. There is no head space to get your snout into to give it a good sniff. Your hot sweaty palms are going to turn that beer into a toddy. Sure, they’re tough and they stack well – but that’s where the benefit ends.

Beer glasses over the centuries were, for the most part, designed with looks in mind but primarily with functionality. Strong beers are served in smaller glasses – such as pokal glasses for strong German dobbelbocks or snifters for English barleywine – basically to stop the drinker from dying and the bar from being sued. When light, clear pilsners became the rage in Germany and Czech Republic, tall, slender and tapered pilsner glasses were invented to show off the brilliant clarity and lightness of the beer. Large German beer siedels – commonly known as steins – were designed to pound back lower alcohol lagers in beer gardens.

As I explained on CBC, for my money, I’d recommend a set of 14oz or 16oz stemmed tulip glasses as the best all around glasses for serving beer in. These Spiegelau ones are awesome.

They’re versatile and attractive. They are classy enough to serve a nice beer in with dinner, and casual enough to pound back a few cold ones on the patio.

They capture the big bold aromas of a fresh IPA and concentrate the bouquet up through the tapered sides of the glass. They also show off the clarity of well-made lager, can contain the fluffy voluminous head of a wheat ale or saison, and even resemble Belgian beer glasses in functionality and shape.

Why are they so good? Well, they kind of look like wine glasses. And that is a good thing. Ultimately what you are looking for in a beer glass is something that looks like the bowl of a wine glass, with a sturdier base. Some, like the Teku glass, are so close to being a wine glass that you’d be forgiven if you poured a rich burgandy into one. Oenophiles discovered a long time ago that wine needs some room to breathe and to release its volatile aromas, and a glass that captures those aromas and focuses them right at your nostrils. They were on to something, those wine guys.

And now for a dad joke. After all is said and done, beer drinking is as much about fun and enjoyment and catching up with friends and family as it is analyzing, appreciating and expanding your gustatory and olfactory skills.  If you’d rather just drink your beer straight from the bottle, go right ahead – after all, it comes in a glass.