Why do you drink beer? Your answer will have a lot to do with how you drink beer.
If you consider craft beer to be an engaging sensory experience and if you’re committed to seeing, smelling and tasting your beer, then the glassware into which it is poured will be an important consideration.
To Rob Archie, the visual component of the beer experience is vital. And it’s a way to connect with and pay homage to the culture and history of drinking this wonderfully eclectic beverage.
As Archie likes to say, beer history doesn’t go back a few decades. It’s more like centuries. Archie, who grew up in Woodland, began to realize that when he moved to Europe to embark on a professional basketball career. When he visited Belgium, so taken was he with the cafe culture that he knew he wanted to someday bring that spirit back to California.
That’s why he opened Pangaea Bier Cafe in Curtis Park in 2008. And that’s why Pangaea is meticulous about presenting each style of beer in the proper glass. It’s this attention to detail – crucial to some, unimportant to others – that distinguishes some beer bars from the rest. As Sacramento’s beer scene continues to grow, we’re going to notice that beer is presented in a variety of ways.
At Rubicon, for example, they generally serve their beer in a glass they call “an honest pint” because it’s large enough to allow for a head and still hold 16 ounces of liquid. Yes, there are many pint glasses out there that aren’t really pints. Some barely hold 12 ounces. At Federalist, that cool new beer bar and pizzeria nestled into a midtown alley, the building is made of re-purposed shipping containers and the beer is served in mason jars. Some would call that folksy or unpretentious. Others might see it as charmingly misguided.
Craft beer is rich with tradition, but there’s also room for innovation. We’ve seen that with the design of a new IPA glass from Spigelau in collaboration with the breweries Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada. The shape of the glass, narrow at the bottom and broader at the brim, is meant to “amplify and balance even the hoppiest of IPAs.”
“A good head on a beer is very important. A nice frothy head will contain (or hold in) carbonation,” Archie said. “There are alpha acids, hop oils and other things that should be preserved in certain beers like IPAs and double IPAs. If there is no head, it is exposed to the elements and it can affect the way it tastes.
“There are certain glasses for certain beers and this is all to encourage the right head for that style of beer. If you have an IPA that’s poured all the way to the top, the carbonation is going to escape quicker and those hop oils won’t be as prevalent if that liquid is exposed completely to the air.”
The most common glass you will see at brewery taprooms is the so-called pint glass. But really, it’s more of a basic shaker glass, the kind a bartender will use to mix a drink. It’s tough. It’s cheap. And to Archie, it’s just plain wrong.
“I despise the shaker glass for beer,” he said. “The classic pint glass is the English pint that actually has a nice bulge at the top. The shaker glass is exactly that. It’s for cocktails. It was never a beer glass. … Bartenders got lazy and (said) this shaker glass can be used for a dual purpose.”
To learn about beer glassware takes time and – you’re in luck – plenty of hands-on experience. You may even break some glass along the way (especially if you drink out of a topsy-turvy Kwak glass).
When Archie opened Pangaea, he found himself reminding customers to be sure to place those eye-catching Kwak glasses back in their holder. But people can get distracted when they drink beer and many of those glasses fell over and shattered. The proprietor stuck to his guns and simply ordered more.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” Archie said with a shrug.
“The Brewmaster’s Table,” an essential book by Garrett Oliver, has a nice section called “Glassware, Temperature, Storage, and Service.” This isn’t about being a snob.
“First of all, relax,” counsels Oliver. “Beer is supposed to be fun, and your glassware should help you get the most enjoyment out of it.” While there are several basic beer glass shapes – including chalice, pilsner, mug and tulip – Oliver says you can do well using a basic wine glass. So do Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing, who echo Archie’s disdain for the standard pint/shaker glass.
If you’re looking for guidance, BeerAdvocate’s rundown online is a good starting point.