"A Glass of Beer"

Just as a wine connoisseur wouldn’t think of pouring his
vintage sherry into a washed out jelly jar, a true beer
enthusiast eschews anything but the proper vessel for
his beer.

There are many styles of the malt beverage other than
what the uninformed simply refer to as “beer” and each
has its own type of glass which complements the style
and enhances the taste as well as the obvious benefit of
better appreciating the appearance of the beer.

Gone are the days when 90% of the beer that was
available to Americans were standard golden lagers,
invariably served in shell glasses, footed or stemmed
pilsners or steins (these last occasionally frosted…..
yeccch!). Little by little American taverns are imitating
their European counterparts with a variety of glasses
suitable for the particular beers they’re serving.

Most often seen today is the standard “shaker” pint, so
named because it resembles nothing so much as a
cocktail shaker. This glass is fine for pale ales, IPAs,
brown ales and porters, but to drink a plain old lager
out of them makes me long for the old days of pilsners
and steins. Too many establishments use shakers for
everything from Coca-Cola to hefeweizens, but a really
knowledgeable tavern keeper selling good beer will also
have several other types of glasses to be used for
serving his available beers.

To pour a “proper pint” of Guinness into anything other
than a British Imperial pint glass is as wrong to beer
geeks as making any sense is to Nancy Pelosi.
Unfortunately, because of all the Guinness lovers who
come out of the woodwork in March, for the next month
we’ll also be forced to drink our Guinness out of plastic
cups when the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations cause the
pubs to run out of glassware.

A special glass to be used for only one style is the
traditional tall German hefeweizen glass, and hefeweizen
is one style for which there is no substitute glass. As
much as I love that beer on a sultry summer day, I’ll do
without rather than drink it out of something else.

I like to drink imperial stouts, barleywines and Baltic
porters out of snifter glasses. Such beers are meant to
be sipped and savored and the snifter is a perfect
vehicle for appreciating the nose while allowing  the
warmth of your hand to bring a too cold beer closer to
the temperature at which it can best be appreciated.

Ornately decorative German steins with hinged lids are
always pictured with a smiling and obviously satisfied fat
man gazing at his beer, usually with a bunch of radishes
or a dead goose on the table in front of him. In addition
to their beauty and collectability such steins are also
practical: the hinged lids were meant to keep the flies
out of your beer. But to me they’re a pain. The raised
lid always hits me in the eye when the stein is raised to
my lips. Besides, who’s to say a fly can’t get trapped IN
your beer by a closed lid?

In Germany, doppelbocks (and some other styles) are
traditionally served in earthenware mugs of varying
sizes. I’m not a fan of this type of glass, which doesn’t
allow you observe the color or size of the head of the
beer you’re drinking, but its traditional and, being a
“traditionalist, in my house any beer with a name ending
in “ator” goes into one.

Also found in Germany is the “boot” glass (sometimes
referred to as the “glug glug” glass). This is a glass
shaped like a heeled boot which requires some expertise
or at least practice to drink from without sloshing the
suds all over your chin. Watching some young revelers
passing a giant sized boot glass around the table next
to us at a pub in Rothenburg inspired some members of
my mummers band to order one. It was great fun
watching the beer slop into their faces and cascade
down their chests as they tried to master swallowing
the last gulp from the boot glass. I stuck to my
masskrug.

Although my beer club cohort and writing colleague
Vince Capano doesn’t like the masskrug (see his Beer
Nexus article “
The Tasting”) because he feels the beer
gets too old and warm by the time this one liter stein is
emptied, the masskrug has the obvious advantages of
delivering more beer with less work and cutting down on
dry spells during a beer session.

But if Vince merely doesn’t LIKE the masskrug, he’s
certain to DESPISE another size German stein, rarely
seen because they’re too hard to lift. On the same
German trip at which we witnessed the boot glass
partyers, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant/butcher
shop kind of place serving fresh meats and luncheon
fare to local farmers. The portion of wiener schnitzel was
more than I could eat in a day, so I should have not
been surprised when the waitress asked if we would like
glasses with the large beers we had ordered. We
declined the offer and said “No…just the beers would be
fine. Just bring the beers….LARGE beers.” She returned
in a few minutes lugging four steins which looked more
like cauldrons. This type of stein contains not one but
THREE liters, delivering the equivalent of more than an
eight pack of beer to have with your lunch. Even I
couldn’t finish that one.

The “triple masskrug” was just a memory until a couple
of weeks ago when I noticed several of them on display
in the front window of Helmer’s, in Hoboken, a great
stop for lovers of German cuisine and beer.

As long as we’re on the subject of steins, another type
that was popular a few years ago and sometimes still
seen is the pewter mug with a glass bottom. Everyone
in my family had one and they all eventually began to
leak, but they made nice Christmas presents, especially
when engraved with the recipient’s initials. I suspect the
real reason for the glass bottom was so an over imbibed
drinker who was on the verge of escorting home what
he perceived to be a beautiful drinking companion, could
look through the bottom while draining his last dregs of
the evening and come to his senses. The glass bottoms
had a sort of truth feature that transformed what he
thought was Cameron Diaz back into Rosie O’Donnell.
Yes! The girls all get prettier at closing time unless
you’re looking through the clear glass bottom of a
pewter mug.

There have been many unconventional types of glasses
ranging from the “Yard of Beer” (most often seen at
historical restorations and re-creations like Williamsburg
or Smithville) and upside down glasses to what I’ll refer
to as the “Leute” glass, most of which are for gimmick
purposes only and do little to enhance the taste or
appearance of beer. But they are uniquely a part of beer
culture and so should be mentioned if not in a positive
vein, at least negatively.

A couple of years ago my beer club CiC Capano
presented me with a gift package of Leute Bok,
consisting of a bottle of the excellent Belgian beer
brewed by the Van Steenberge brewery and a round
bottomed glass that came with a small wooden stand
with a concave depression for holding the glass, “Leute”
means joy in Flemish and it was with great joy that I
anticipated my first sampling of this beer. I waited for
just the right moment: a cold winter’s night with sleet
pelting against the widows, the cats reclining in
positions reminiscent of Chinamen in an opium den and
the dog resting comfortably at my feet.

I set the little wooden stand conveniently close to the
beer book I was reading at my desk, uncapped the
bottle, filled the glass, took a sip and carefully set it into
the stand. Flipping through a few more pages ,the sips
were repeated and the glass set back into the stand
uneventfully. Unfortunately, some bit of beer trivia in
the book really piqued my interest and, after the next
sip, I distractedly set down the round bottomed glass
onto my desk top without benefit of the stand. The
glass did a sort of roly poly action before unloading its
contents onto the desk, and eventually, the floor. At
this point the cats and dog quickly awakened from their
lethargy and began to investigate the spillage. Perhaps
they can give a more informed rating than I on the
drinkability of Leute Bok.

From now on it’s flat bottomed glasses only for me and
there’s no better time to start than right now. So for
now……

CHEERS!


Dan
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