Are You Tasting the Pith? - 20th June 04
Enthusiasts of Belgian and German beers (and to a lesser degree, beer afficionados everywhere) will be familiar with the use of different shaped glasses. Any decent beer cafe in Belgium will serve a bottled beer with its appropriate exotically-shaped and branded glass. The story goes that every beer has a differently shaped glass, better to show off the beers particular characteristics. After all, Riedel have a very succesful line in "stemware" tailored to flatter wines from specific regions, so why not beer?
This got me thinking - perhaps I'm missing out on a whole lot of flavour by sticking to my favourite drinking vessels? For beers I tend to favour either a straight-sided pint glass (truly a noble drinking vessel, as chef terrible Anthony Bourdain notes), or the classic weighty Hoegaarden 33cl tumbler - nice and chunky, and if the glass is refrigerated, it keeps the beer cool longer.
As an aside, I tend to favour oversize wine glasses for drinking wine, purely for the extra aroma they trap, and for gin and tonics, I have now graduated from an old Bonne Maman jam jar, of which I once had quite a collection, to a nice neutral tumbler. All cocktails other than gin and tonic are quite unnecessary - as Baden-Powell would have it, they are what women and boys drink.
After a bit of faffing around, ostensibly in the name of research, I discovered that glassware does make a huge difference to the overall experience of drinking good beer. It definitely doesn't affect the taste of the beer, but the overall impression can be vastly different. For preference, I now drink most beer from the standard Duvel glass, which is a flared tulip shaped, or should you for some reason have never seen a tulip, like an inverted dome with a drawn in waist.
This has, I feel, several advantages. For smaller bottles (25 - 33cl), you can slosh the beer around like brandy in a balloon glass, releasing the aroma (point one). This aroma is then trapped in the top of the tulip-shaped glass (point two), allowing full nosing and appreciation. It is a pleasantly short, wide, stable glass, thus reducing the risk of spillage that inevitably accompanies any, ahem, serious tasting session (point three). For drinkers of British beer, you can fit a whole pint bottle in one (point four), and frankly, it just looks the business (point five).
One caveat though - this glass only really enhances decent quality bottled beers. Should you try a can of Carling out of one, the density of the grainy aroma trapped in the top is a little offputting, reinforcing the idea that certain beers are better in certain types of glass. But then, who on earth drinks anything other than decent quality bottled beers these days?
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