Guzzle No More
Today’s craft beers deserve some TLC to coax out their subtle nuances
You’d be hard-pressed to walk into any bar or restaurant and find someone sitting at a table, drinking red wine straight from the bottle. Such an action would seem barbaric, right? Yet it’s downright commonplace to be dining at any given steak house in any given city in America and find folk tipping back 12-ounce bottles of macrobrew. The fact is, all beer benefits from being poured into a glass.
As is the case with wine, there are countless factors that can determine how a beer tastes, looks, and smells once it’s placed in front of you. Is your beer served at a near-freezing temperature? Was your beer stored in a warm, brightly lit room prior to service? What type of glass is your beer served in, and how was it cleaned? Sure, beer is supposed to be a casual beverage and enjoyed easily with friends, but these handling factors are crucial when you’re looking to appreciate a craft beer at its best.
Heat and sunlight are to beer what kryptonite is to the Man of Steel. In other words, the conditions of a beer’s journey from brewery to distributor to seller are crucial. Temperature fluctuations can result in spoilage and funky flavors, so beer ideally should leave the brewery cold, sit in the distributor’s chilled warehouse, and eventually wait for consumption in a liquor store or restaurant’s refrigerator. And since prolonged exposure to sunlight can give beer dreaded skunky aromas, it’s important that those brown and green bottles stay away from the bright lights.
Craft brewers are painstaking in their efforts to ensure that their beer is properly carbonated and showcasing a healthy head of foam. It’s a crime, then, to witness bartenders letting beer overflow from the glass—not only are they wasting beer, but they’re pouring all those aromatic bubbles right down the drain. A proper beer poured from the tap should be capped off with an inch or two of head. When pouring from a bottle at home, tilt your glass to a 45-degree angle and pour the beer down the inside wall. When you are three-quarters of the way done, tip the glass upright and pour the remaining beer into the center—this will concentrate the head and leave you with a beautiful foamy presentation.
And though an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day has its appeal, try letting the beer warm up a bit before imbibing. Much like cheese, beer served right from the refrigerator can seem muted. But let your lagers and ales get a little closer to the 45°F mark—and up to 60°F, depending on the beer—and you’ll open up a larger window of beer appreciation.
Beer needs to meet oxygen to fully release its wonderful aromas. And there are a gazillion different types of beer glasses out there to help. The 16-ounce American “shaker pint” has become the de facto beer glass for most bars these days, but look beyond the traditional pint and you’ll find specialty glassware designed to enhance carbonation, aroma, and flavor.
Should you feel silly—or snobby—sipping a big 12 percent–alcohol imperial stout out of a brandy snifter? Absolutely not! The tight rim on the glass will help accentuate the aroma. Utilize a tulip glass to display the beautiful, billowy carbonation on your Belgian-style tripel. And what if you don’t have any snifters hanging around the home cupboard? No worries at all. Both white and red wine glasses are perfect for most beers, as they’ll allow you to swirl the beer and get your nose right up against the liquid.
And finally, a word on the cleanliness of your glassware. It’s downright easy to spot a bar that takes its beer service seriously. The next time you’re at a local watering hole, take a look around the room. Are full glasses of beer topped with a foamy head? Do the emptied glasses have a white lacy film remaining on the inside? If the answer to both questions is yes, then your neighborhood bar has some squeaky-clean glassware. But if the answer is no, it’s likely those glasses have soap residue, dust, or dirt hanging around. Such things can kill the carbonation in a beer, thus degrading its flavor, appearance, and aroma. Happy beer comes from a clean glass.
So you don’t have a pantry solely reserved for your collection of beer-style-specific, regionally appropriate glassware? While you dream of plans for a kitchen expansion, here are three styles of affordable, versatile glasses to do your beer justice.
A stemmed glass with a rounded bottom and noticeable lip at the top. The stem will keep your warm mitts from heating up the beer too fast, while also giving you a good anchor for swirling. And that lip near the rim of the glass will help concentrate the aromatic head.
Use it for most Belgian-style, wild-fermentation, and big, boozy beers.
20-ounce Imperial Nonic:
This larger version of the old-school American “shaker pint” has a slight bubble just south of the rim. That extra space will come in handy when pouring beers with a big head of carbonation. The wide mouth allows oxygen to meet beer and lets you get plenty of aroma when drinking.
Use it for pale ales, IPAs, brown ales, amber ales, stouts, and porters.
This tall, thin, horn-shaped receptacle is perfectly suited for highlighting the clear, golden style of beer from which the glass gets its name. But the tight rim can also showcase the billowy head of a fruity wheat beer.
Use it for pilsner (obviously), German hefeweizen, and most German lagers.
Photography by Annalou Vincent
& Daniel Lunghi