Glassware, part 1

Kiesbye called it the fifth ingredient and I have to agree. Having experimented with glassware for almost a year now, the glass you choose for your beer can really make the difference in taste and smell and overall experience. When I began writing this piece I went all over the place and still are going all over the place, so I should probably make this a series, hence the part 1.

Some basic beer serving knowledge first.  When you work in the food service industry you always try to serve the beer in the glass from the brewery. Exceptions for beer tastings and beer-food pairings, subjects I’ll save for later. I won’t start with all the different names and terms for now either; the fluitjes, seidls, stanges, maß, shakers and all. That’s probably a book’s worth of text to dedicate to names and terms alone.

There are some traditionally basic shapes used for certain types of beer:

  1. Pilsner is served in a small long, thin glass, somewhat smaller at the bottom than the top (the thin glass makes the beer look brighter)
  2. Geuze is served in a thick glass with ridges at the bottom (so your fingers don’t warm the beer to fast)
  3. Abbey beers are served in goblets, the aromas reach your nose easily because of the large surface and they look real reginal
  4. Weizen is served in a glass with a narrowing at the bottom half, a widening at the top half and a slightly narrowed opening, the shape helps to control the foam

Almost all styles have their own kind of glasses this way and glass producers keep doing research to what is the best form for a certain beerstyle. Check the famous Spiegelau for example. The shape of their IPA glass makes sure you keep a steady layer of foam for one. It’s also made keeping in mind the strong aromas of American IPA’s. A different approach is used for the development of tasting glasses, another interesting subject.

The shape and size of a glass influences the sight, sound, smell, taste and feel of a beer and that’s why I find glassware so interesting. I experienced once where a stout in the one glass smelled and tasted mostly like coffee, with some burned notes, while in the other glass it was pure chocolate. So how can that be?

For now I just focus on the taste and will come back to aroma, sight, sound and feel later.

The shape of a glass determines where and how the beer will enter your mouth, not to mention with what speed, and that will influence the taste of the beer. Have you ever done that experiment in physics at high school to see how fast water goes through a narrow curve and a wide curve? It goes faster through the small one. That has something to do with the same amount of water having to go through a smaller surface in the same amount of time.

This would mean that with a small glass the beer races over the tongue, hardly touching, and lands in your throat, while a wide glass delivers the beer on your tongue, causing different flavour sensations. A wide glass will also deliver the beer in your cheeks, and will fill the whole of your mouth. Furthermore a wide glass invites you to take sips where a small glass is more inviting to chucking, so the quantity at any time will be different as well. Another thing shape can do is let the fluid skip over your tongue, the thing that happens with a weizen glass. A more clear example would be the use of a drinking horn. Ever tried to drink out of a horn with the horn curled up or down? Did you actually get some of that beer IN your mouth? The same curves, albeit more balanced, you can find in several beer glasses.

We used to think the tongue was divided in parts: the tip could taste sweetness and saltiness, saltiness was also discernible at the sides of the tip, sour was more a thing of the cheek sides and bitterness was all the way in the back. We now know that’s not true. We now know the tongue has different kind of tastebuds; the circumvallate, the foliate and the fungiform. They recognise taste by recognition or penetration of the receptors, and all three of them work more or less the same, but it still makes a difference where, how, how long and with what quantity the beer enters your mouth.

This time not a question per se, but I would like you to try to drink a beer (preferably one with a complex flavour) out of totally different glasses and share your experiences with me 🙂 

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