Pure Hokum, or 99.9% Hokum? Beer Glassware Obsession

As beer geeks like me are becoming more widespread (literally and figuratively), the bar for snobbery has raised higher and higher. When I was new to my avocation, you could be a beer snob by preferring Michelob to Busch, and a real connoisseur by preferring Heineken to either. These days, you can’t raise an eyebrow unless your single hop brett infused oyster stout has been barrel aged in wine casks of a superior vintage.

The obsession with beer cred bears some similarity to a cocaine habit. Money is a fuel source for the addiction, and odd behavior or is no longer a concern. I am pretty certain that I have drunk tinted vinegar with soap suds floating on top, and thought myself cool for doing so.

The new faddish obsession opportunity to demonstrate connoisseurship is not even liquid. Instead, the glass itself has drawn critical attention and impassioned believers. Gone are the days when slapping it decal on a shaker pint represented beer specific glassware. Sam Adams has long bragged about its highly engineered beer glass, complete with a blueprint background in ads to let us know that they are serious. Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head have joined in the circus with their new glass, which they claim has taken over 2 years to develop. (Note to self: seek hourly wage position at Sierra Nevada brewery; productivity standards are nonexistent.)

Glassware manufacturers are making a killing selling high-priced fragility.

Here is my favorite class. It’s most important quality is that it holds beer without leaking. Its 2nd most important quality is that my dad drank beer from a similar glass. Its 3rd best quality is that it is clear, so that I don’t have to pick it up and look inside to figure out when it needs filling.

I could, if I wanted, make serious beer connoisseur arguments for why this glass is a wonderful design. I could focus on the variation in width, which allows for a better appreciation of color, and how the bowl shape offers a nice surface for aroma appreciation. Anyone who has produced or experienced a silent fart on an elevator knows, however, that aroma is quite capable of reaching a beer drinker through a glass wrapped in jeans and underwear.

That is why I claim that 99.9% of glassware hype is hokum. Sure, a nice shape can impact your appreciation of a beer, a tiny bit. Not as much as whether the person next to you is wearing cologne, or whether you had jalapenos on your lunch. When I judge homebrew, I use a mechanical pencil to eliminate the aroma of cedar from my pencil, so I understand the importance of subtle nuances.

By all means, if you have a favorite class, then use it. If you don’t have a favorite class, don’t let anybody convince you that you should invest your beer money on glass. Free glasses are just fine.

6 Responses to “Pure Hokum, or 99.9% Hokum? Beer Glassware Obsession”

  1. les says:

    Glassware serves other ends, too: Boulevard’s Tank 7 glasses have a “full here” line, for people like me who bitch at bartenders about half empty (but you knew that) glasses.

  2. Nick says:

    All of John’s staff can – and will, given half a chance – explain the differences in their glassware and why certain ones pair up with certain beers.

    (Don’t tell him, but I’m as apt to guzzle from the bottle at home. Or, if I think about it, I may well pour one into some plastic ‘gimme’ cup from some forgotten bbq contest or other.)

  3. gonemild says:

    I know, and it’s fine that they do so, but I still say it’s 99.9% hokum – or at least, it’s a matter of what people enjoy. Stout is not objectively better out of a dimpled pint mug than it is out of a pilsner glass, but if it makes you feel like you’re in Dublin to heft a dimpled mug, then absolutely go for it. BUT, if you tell someone that they shouldn’t drink it out of a shaker glass, you’re a knucklehead, and deserve to be mocked.

  4. les says:

    Beer stuff from James Fallows, with glass pimp in the middle. Nick, I’m totally with you on drinking from the bottle–works fine, and nothing to wash. But I draw the line at plastic–just never seems right, and (I imagine?) makes more foam.

  5. Nick says:

    Les -

    Must be my years in Asia and Europe; I’ve drunk ’standing’ beer, hot beer, icy beer, beer left open on a radiator overnight, beer out of the hollow of a woman’s neck (and elsewhere), on the top of the Eiffel as well as below sea level. Hell, we even tried to pop a Coors and drink it while free-falling one time (it was somewhat messy).

    Beer is beer. I don’t sip it – I drink it. It doesn’t normally have enough time to acquaint itself with its container, much less issue preferences…

    ; ‘ )

  6. les says:

    Well, Nick, perhaps “draw the line” was overstated, on the plastic cup–”I’d rather not” may be closer. While I can’t match some of your more interesting approaches to beer–not for lack of trying–my only real hard line is probably “beer been used as ashtray.” That only happened by mistake.

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