Look, could you stop drinking craft beer straight from the bottle. Thank you

Bobby Hill and Andy Renko

‘C’mon, Bobby – time for a beer’

It was a phenomenon I first became aware of while watching the marvellous, multilayered Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s. Officers Bobby Hill and Andy Renko, the “salt and pepper” squad car duo, would repair their spirits after a tough shift dealing with assorted area villainy by repairing to a bar, where they would drink beer straight from the long-necked bottle.

That style of drinking, of course, was a reflection by the show’s writers and producers of authentic working-class US culture. Around the same time, however, doubtless through the medium of American yuppies, who liked to pick up on certain elements of working-class behaviour (eg copying the Mexican workers they saw sticking a slice of lime into the neck of Sol and Corona) in an attempt to look “authentic”, drinking beer straight from the bottle spread from working class bars across the US to middle-class bars in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Soon after, yuppie wannabes across the Atlantic in Britain seemed to have copied the habit from the young American financiers they so admired, adding it to their lusts for striped shirts, red braces, Filofaxes and BMWs.

What are these things we’re drying up, Andy?’ ‘No idea, at all, Robert.’

From there, the idea that consuming your beer straight from the bottle was “cool” swiftly became mainstream in urban centres around the British Isles. I remember being at the bar of a disco in the basement of a Dublin hotel in June 1992 (I was there for Bloomsday), ordering a bottle of Heineken, when the following conversation took place:
Barman: “Would ye like a glass with that?”
Me: “Yes, please”
Barman: “Th’ young fellas drink it by the neck, ye know.”

Now, if you’re having a Heineken, whether you’re consuming it out of a glass or not (or even straight out of a can) probably doesn’t matter so much (although there are still good reasons not to neck it: see next paragraph.) But if it’s a craft product you’re drinking, please, please, use a glass. Tipping it straight down your throat out of the bottle is deeply disrespectful to the beer. The brewers have done their best to bring you a drink that will burst with aroma and flavour when poured out, that will be visually enticing, with marvellous colour and firm, foaming head, that will delight with every slow sip and swallow. What you get when you neck that beer is an initial sharp burst of carbonic fizz that blasts your tongue and nose, a burn at the back of your throat as you swallow the fizzing liquid, and that’s it. No aroma, very little flavour. No chance at all to appreciate the colour, the head, or any of the subtleties of what you’re drinking.

More, be it Heineken or Westvleteren 12, when you neck a beer and it hits your stomach, all the CO2 in the liquid comes out of solution, just as it would if you poured it quickly into a glass. Immediately, or soon after, you’ll feel bloated and burp-full: hardly a desirable state, at the disco, the party or the barbecue.

The rise of the beer-necking habit unfortunately means that some bars have decided it’s not even worth presenting the punter with a glass for their drink. In the UK, this is still, fortunately, rare. I can think of only one outlet near where I live, a wine bar in Richmond, south-west London where I have to add “and a glass, please” when I order a beer. Even in Hong Kong, where yuppies appear still to be thriving, most bars will give you a glass to go with a bottle: only the American-run ones seem not to. Unfortunately one of my favourite Hong Kong bars, and the best bar within walking distance of my flat, is run by an American, and while he’s a great guy, it’s hacking me off that I need to ask for a glass to drink my PranQster out of every single time.

(Addendum: a comment by the Beer Nut below has just reminded me of another incident that prompted this rant: a trip two weeks ago for my wife’s birthday to the place that claims to be the highest bar in the world, Ozone, 118 floors up at the top of the 1,588-ft (484-metre) ICC Tower in West Kowloon. Tremendous views of Hong Kong island – well worth visiting, particularly at sunset, when you can see the ranks of skyscrapers across Victoria Harbour light up. However, the beer selection at Ozone, part of the Ritz Carlton Hotel at the ICC Tower, is almost as poor as you might expect – Carlsberg, Heineken, a nod to the locale with bottles of Hong Kong Beer, which is, frankly, really NVG. The only hint that the F&B manager might have any knowledge of beer came with the presence of Chimay red and white on the drinks list. I ordered a bottle of the red, and it, too, arrived sans glass. When my wife ordered a large Sauvignon Blanc, did they bring the bottle and no wineglass? Hardly. So why insult both me and the monks of Baileux by not sending up my Chimay with a beerglass, especially when the Chimay glass is a particularly attractive one?)

Last weekend, two of the small American beer importers that have recently started up in Hong Kong held a joint barbecue at a small beachside bar in the furthest eastern extremity of Hong Kong island, in part to show off some of their newest lines, including beers from the Japanese brewer Yonasato. I had a shrewd idea of what the situation was going to be, and took my own glass along – thus, while everybody else was necking great bubbly mouthfulls, I, at least, was enjoying Tokyo Black the way the brewer intended it to be enjoyed.

Oi, you – yes, you in the dark blue T-shirt. Put that can down and go and get a glass. And that goes for the rest of you drinking straight from the container as well. Respect your beer.

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54 thoughts on “Look, could you stop drinking craft beer straight from the bottle. Thank you

  1. Like many people of my age I was always brought up to regard drinking from the bottle as gross bad manners and I’ve even seen some angry scenes involving this. My sons say it’s done to prevent people from spiking drinks in pubs and clubs;as that doesn’t happen at my house neither does drinking from the bottle.
    I’m not sure what you mean by “craft beer” particularly as the new Greene King IPA pump clips make it clear that this beverage too is hand crafted.Personally I divide beer into the sort I want to drink and that which I don’t enjoy.

  2. “Tipping it straight down your throat out of the bottle is deeply disrespectful to the beer…” I can agree that it tastes best in a glass but it’s a long long way from there to the fear of being deeply disrespectful to beer. It’s a thing. I may like it and may have spent a lot of time and money experiencing it and learning about it but if I am at a party where people are drinking from cans and bottles I bring a can of good stuff and drink straight from that. More than the inanimate object, it is both my investment that I respect but also the context of how I deploy that interest in the company of other.

      • Have you never done that? Not that I would at 49 (unless with undergrad friends in special circumstances now that I think of it) but I have funnelled, shot gunned, “consumed mass quantities” (see Saturday Night Live circa 1979) and admired a former Oxford don who could drain a 12 oz bottle in under 2 seconds and then another in under another 2 seconds. Context is everything. Honestly <5% of my beer is not in a glass and <.0001% that not in a glass is also not from the can or bottle. But it could happen.

        Turn it around. How different is the half-yard of ale from the funnel?

        • ‘Course I have. I even managed to keep a straight face when leading the delegation of 19-year-olds into the washing machine repair shop to ask for the tubing from a man who pretended not to know what we wanted it for.

          • Even worse, I have taken rather limited supply and precious Low Country ales and poured them into BBQ sauces and dripped them over smoking roasts out back to create a delicious sweet glaze that utterly destroys any resemblance to the brewer’s wish. Tasty to me is sovereign, however, so I laugh in the face of such wishes for hard earned delicate ales.

  3. I used to work in a pub where we had a policy of not giving bottles out over the bar. Used to end up in lots of arguments with people who wanted to drink from the bottle. Generally seemed to be more a case of showing others the bottle label; pay over the odds, show off what you’re drinking. I took a certain pleasure in denying them the opportunity.

    • Gareth, lols. I agree i guess its most of what you are drinking and kinda like monkey see monkey do.

      @Martyn – i so agree with your point of disrespecting the beer. I love to pour into a mug create a head, smell it, and have a sip while admiring the golden colour.

  4. It sounds like this is an embarrassing affectation in Britain, but are you sure about the US? I’m only in my mid-thirties, but I grew up (in the US) watching my socioeconomically-diverse extended family (made up of people like farmers, lawyers, college professors, prison guards, diplomats, nurses, dentists, high school gym teachers, etc. from different parts of the country) drink a decent quantity of beer, almost all of it straight from the bottle or can. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve seen a significant number of people drinking decent bottled beer out of a glass instead. Did something change in the late 70s, or has this just consistently been the US way of drinking bottled beer, belatedly traveling across the ocean in the 80s?

      • I’m 50 years old (also named Matt) and I agree with what the first Matt said. From the early ’70′s through the present, most Americans I encountered (or saw on TV) were drinking straight from the can or bottle. However, it’s important to note that until just a few years ago, nearly all of that beer was lousy lager with either little or no noticeable taste, or actually tasted terrible (which is why it was always served “ice cold”, to help mask the piss poor flavo[u]r). Drinking straight from the container was probably an improvement. I also remember drinking a lot of that beer while driving around, or hanging around outside (like your beach shot), so glasses weren’t even an option much of the time.
        Today, much as I would rather hold off on drinking a real beer until a proper glass were available, does anyone really care if their Heineken/Bud/Stella/Miller/Molson/Coors, or Becks is in a glass? I mean really!

        • Oh, and one more thing, Guiness markets 11.2oz bottles of Extra Stout with a widget inside that they specifically say is meant to be drunk straight from the bottle, not poured like the 16 nitro widget cans.

    • I think that’s just your family. Everyone in my family drank from a glass; this is Canada, though, so maybe we retain some of that classy Britishness.

  5. I personally look forward to the day where my order of compressed air-propelled keg lager is dispensed directly into a bottle so that I might drink even draught beer from the container.

  6. I still get odd looks when I ask for a glass. I just ask the wait staff if they chug their wine from a bottle. After the initial weird look, they get it.

    I teach in my classes that drinking from a bottle is not only bad for your stomach, who know what the hell has touched it.

    Now, teaching bars etc. how to get a beer clean glass…

    BTW, George Reisch, brewmaster at AB, preaches the no drinking out of the bottle mantra wherever he goes. So it is really a cultural issue that beer is cheap, and why waste a glass.

    • I was going to mention this. It’s an amazing beer by all accounts, but I’d still drink it from the glass. The ‘drink from a can’ aspect I’ll just disregard as cute, gimmicky marketing.

    • American craft brewers – could you stop describing something that’s 8% alcohol as “highly drinkable and refreshing”? Two tasty thirst-quenching cans* of that stuff and you’d be refreshed out of your skull.

      The idea that some of the hop flavour would get lost if you allowed any hop aroma to develop (by pouring) also seems unconvincing.

      *Units of alcohol in one 16-US-fl-oz can: 3.8.

  7. While a pet peeve, it isn’t a problem unless the person who paid for the beer starts complaining that the beer tastes awful, especially if with regards to the items mentioned in the article. You paid for it, enjoy it how you prefer, but a glass would be recommended for certain beers. I would recommend that you drink certain adjunct lagers from the bottle in order to prevent some of the awful tastes and aromas you might experience if it were in a more closed type of vessel.
    Being raised and residing in the USA for my short (35) span of years, I’ve seen alcoholic beverages provided in their container much more often than not. I suspect that this has several things behind it. One reader mentioned that label cachet could affect the choice, which I agree. Large producers certainly show their product in a labeled vessel to promote their brand and associate good feelings with the product that has that appearance. There is also the issue of being outdoors, and utilizing cans, which are easier to bring in and out. When we go out on the boat, I bring plastic translucent cups, so that people can enjoy the great craft beer from a can, but it is something else that winds up in the trash, and has to be carried in and out.
    It might be interesting to see a new can design that builds off of recent “megabrewer” initiatives for wide mouth beverages. We could have a new can design that allow the whole top to be removed. Since it curves slightly at the top already, this would even allow some more of the aroma to directed to the nose…. I bet you’re all ready to call your patent attorneys right now, aren’t you?
    Thanks for the interesting blog. Cheers!

  8. It’s such a chore getting people to realize that HOW you drink a beer is just as important as WHAT you’re drinking. Fortunately, the more people who figure it out, the more people there are who will pass the word along.

  9. Here across the pond in the U.S. the usual regional habits apply. Since they tend to drink more bellywash in the warmer climes, it’s usually straight from the bottle. Where you do get a glass, however, it’s often a frosted, frozen one, which is not much of an improvement. Now, after I’ve asked for the frequently non-existent beer list, I request a non-frosted glass, to the wait staff’s semi-amazement. (In spots catering to craft beer, the story is far more upbeat.)

  10. In my experience of drinking beer in North America since about 1970, it was very rare to be offered a beer without a glass until the 1980′s, but with two exceptions:

    1) In the Southwest and perhaps the South, people did often drink beer that way, probably because of the climate. This was not in restaurants or hotel bars, but in the normal places in town people take a drink. Before A/C came along, the beer would keep colder in the bottle than when transferred to a glass even a supposedly chilled one. That was the main reason, IMO.

    2) Americans always drank from bottles and especially cans on the beach, at picnics and on sail boats.

    These two practices coalesced into a nation-wide one by the later 80′s.

    A glass is always preferable IMO: beer is hard enough to digest in quantity from a glass let alone a bottle, plus you can’t, IMO again, taste it properly unless it is poured into a glass and some of the CO2 allowed to evaporate. Also, if you request the barman to pour bottle-conditioned beer to leave it mostly clear (or ask to do it yourself, a surer guarantee), you will get a beer that isn’t heavily cloudy. Drinking it from the bottle, no matter how carefully one does it, results in a cloudy drink that is usually too yeasty (for me of course).

    Gary

    P.S. There are corners of Europe where it was traditional to drink from the bottle. In Jackson’s The World Guide To Beer (1978), there is a photo in the Germany chapter of an elderly gent with an open bottle of bock beer next to him on a bench. He was smoking a cigar and enjoying the beer straight from the pot-stoppered bottle. No glass in sight.

    • Good points but have you not forgotten the “disco amplifier and speakers effect” whereby the design of the product assumes an output via a certain media? I can’t imagine the taste of Miller High Life is designed to be consumed expect from the bottle.

      • When I tried to copy paste the link in, it didn’t work (the link goes back to an earlier page of unrelated images), but a search of, say, “Miller High Life images” produces handsome colour advertisements from the 40′s and 50′s in which the famous tallish clear bottle is pictured next to full glasses, with figures in the advertisement shown holding filled glasses only. It really did start that way as far as I know…

        I claim no absolute knowledge and it would be interesting to hear what others say especially those “of a certain age”. :)

        Gary

  11. Excellent blog, some things just can’t be repeated too often. A few points:

    Here in Denmark, the bottled beer culture goes way back and is much stronger than in the UK. In many situations, at the building site, in the fields, in the park, on the beach etc. it has simply always been easier to drink from the bottle. Work place drinking is dead today, but no doubt this is why it’s authentic working class behaviour. Since I hate the DMS in industrial lager, I don’t feel bad doing the same.

    However, the CO2 argument is good, I hadn’t really thought of that. Good to remember next time someone says when you can do it to a Carlsberg you can also do it to a Brewdog.

    Next time you’re at that wine bar in Richmond, order a bottle of wine and then ask “why the glass? I don’t usually get a glass here”

    But some of the above comments are also right. At the right occassion anything can be drunk from the bottle. On the one hand it can be disrespectful to the brewer. On the other hand, it’s not that unusual to see brewers (of the ultra hip craft beer scene) to drink their own imperial stout or IPA from the bottle, just to show us geeks and glass fascists that “hey, it’s just beer”. And sometimes, it is just beer…

  12. Funnily enough, I never do it in public, but do sometimes treat myself to Brooklyn Lager from the bottle when I’m home alone. Makes me feel like I’m in the Wire and saves dirtying a glass.

  13. I’ve been drinking beer here in the US (Northern, within a rivers width of Canada) for 30 years. We used to drink out of bottles when the best thing we could get was Labatt Blue. There is no reason to try and get an aroma from a mass market light lager. When the first craft beers became available in the early 80′s we started using glasses.
    I never serve a beer without a glass at home, whether it is draft or bottled. I even put the Labatt Blue (which some people insist on drink still) in a pint glass.
    Regretfully I still have to tell the bartenders that I want an un-chilled glass, and most places still don’t have a beer list but the places that irk me the most are the ones that the waitress says they have everything. You all know the place, they have Bud, Bud lite, Bud lite lime, Miller, miller lite, MGD 64, Coors, Coors lite and Sam Adams Boston Lager. I always ask for a Chimay Grande Reserve. They don’t ever seem to get the joke.
    I can’t figure out why a $10 bottle of wine is sophisticated and requires crystal stemware (for 4 servings) and the 4-pack of dogfish head world wide stout that cost $40 is supposed to be chugged from the bottle. Maybe we could ask the mayor of NYC, who banned beer from Central park for concert goers, but said that wine was OK.
    Everyone in Britain should be thankful that most places still treat the customer with respect, and provide the glass whether the patron wants it or not.

    Love the article and responses.

  14. Hi Martyn

    While I agree that a glass, and preferably one that suits the style of beer you are drinking, is the best way to analyse all of the qualities of a beer I disagree with your overarching sentiment that drinking from a bottle or can is “doing it wrong”. In short (with tongue firmly implanted in cheek) your opinion is wrong.

    Three weeks ago I had a beer with the chief steward and the head judge of the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Beer Awards. These guys know their beer, they know how to best analyse it and they’re a couple of the most respected people in the New Zealand beer scene. They’d been busy organising the judging process for the awards, which were starting the next day, and we all had a chat over a bottle of one of my beers… There were no glasses around and we were all open minded enough to just “neck it”. None of us complained of “an initial sharp burst of carbonic fizz that blasts your tongue and nose” or any “burn at the back of your throat” as we swallowed. We could still get the aroma, sure not quite like you would from an XL5 glass, but there was no doubting what beer we were drinking from sniffing the bottle opening. And I can assure you there was plenty of flavour!!

    So, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with drinking from the bottle or a can. Just like there is nothing wrong with people blending beers, or making beer cocktails, or turning one of our beers into a shandy or radler… It’s just a different way of doing things. I know for a fact that several people who drink our beers generally only drink out of a bottle. In fact, a couple of people who love our Rex Attitude (a heavily-peated single malt golden ale) will only drink it from the bottle. They love the flavour but the phenols are too overpowering for them to drink it from the glass. Personally, I love it from the glass but I can see why they might like it that way.

    It takes all sorts to make the beer world go around. That is what makes these days the best of beer times.

    And, besides, a bottle (or can) is the only practical choice for a shower beer…

    Slainte mhath!!
    Stu

    On a semi-related note, we may be about to allow same sex couples to marry in New Zeland. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/7575137/Bill-passes-first-reading – the next law change mooted is to allow them to drink craft beer, from the bottle, at the wedding reception.

  15. Yep. Drink wine from the bottle? You look like a hobo. If you drink beer from a bottle, you look normal. Ask for a glass for a beer, when no glass was offered? You look like a prissy snob.

    And. another. thing. Damn damn damn those chilled mugs and shaker pints! I’m not paying $7 for a craft beer, and then killing the aroma and flavor with an ice-cold vessel. It’s bad enough that the beer is stored at neer-freezing. Just give it to me in a goblet. I don’t care how silly it looks to the Philistines across the bar. #craftbeer

  16. A longtime pet peeve of mine as well. It really hurt to be in a village pub in N.Yorkshire a few years ago drinking cask ale and seeing young people necking Budweiser. Even worse, they held the bottle loosely in the web of their thumb and forefinger at the very top of the bottle neck and kind of swung it up to swig it. I think they must have seen it on American TV. Here they were, passing up a national treasure while I, a Yank, had traveled thousands of miles for it.

    However, they were nice kids and I enjoyed talking with them, and I said nothing about their choice of beer or method of drinking it.

  17. I grew up in the U.S. (but please don’t hold it against me) in the 70s and 80s. My father was a big drinker of Pabst and Budweiser. I must have seen him drink hundreds of beers from cans and bottles from at least 1973 (I was born in ’68). When I asked him about using glassware he said he drank bottled beer from glasses in the 60s but didn’t have a recollection of when that went out of popular use. He did suggested, as other comments here have, that much of his drinking was done outdoors and probably impromptu. A sorry excuse for not using drink ware, I know.
    My wife (who, incidentally grew up in the suburbs of the West coast, while I grew up in the rural Midwest- as far as the question of ‘necking’ being regional is concerned) can remember her father drinking both Mickey’s Big Mouths and Michelob from the bottle. This would definitely have been 1973 or before as parents split up in ’75. She never saw him use a glass AND he did all of his drinking indoors.
    Thanks for all your work Martyn. We enjoy every bit.

  18. I always drink beer from a glass except in the following circumstances which in my very personnel opinion are fine exceptions. 1. While Fishing. 2. Camping in the backwoods – 3. While out sailing in a small open boat . Beer always tastes better out of a glass, but while in the great outdoors most beers taste superb while admiring the peace and beauty of Mother Nature!

  19. Being a home brewer for twenty years and have owned and operated a craft beer biz in the U.S I have most of my drinking and brewing life drank beer out of glasses. I remember an instance where my fiance and I went on a Cruise back in ’97 and the best beer I could get at the bar was Bass Ale in bottles. As I asked the bar keep for the beer, I added that I’d like a glass with that please. There was a guy to the right of me that said ” Would you like her to drink it for you too?” As I turned and sized up the wanker, I noticed he was drinking a Bud Light from a can. I snarled back at him ” Shut up and drink your girly beer and mind your own business” He tried to stare me down but, I told him if he wanted trouble he found it and he walked off toward the deck.

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