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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 beerenthusiast eschews anything but the proper vessel for his beer.
There are many styles of the malt beverage other tha nwhat the uninformed simply refer
to as “beer” and eachhas its own type of glass which complements the style and
enhances the taste as well as the obvious benefit ofbetter appreciating the
appearance of the beer.

Gone are the days when 90% of the beer that wasavailable 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 acocktail shaker. This glass is fine for pale ales, IPAs,brown ales and
porters, but to drink a plain old lagerout of them makes me long for the old days of
pilsnersand 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 (sometimesreferred 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 BeerNexus 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
ondry 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 party people, 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
beer.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 apewter 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 an dthe 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……


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