The pint glass is normally a triumph of function over form, being, too often, an extremely ugly container for a very fine product. However, I recently acquired a couple of what are, in two senses, pretty cool beer glasses: the shape is quite attractive, and the double-walled construction means that the liquid inside is much less likely to be warmed up by your hand as you hold your beer.
I don’t know if the “Steady Temp double-walled beer glass” is sold in the UK – I acquired mine in the Land of Sand, and the only web sites I’ve found selling them are in the US. They’re not cheap, and they appear quite fragile, which suggests no pub or bar is ever likely to buy them, although “customer comments” on the Amazon.com site suggest they are tougher than they look. (They’re also 500ml, rather than an Imperial pint, so British pubs couldn’t legally use them anyway, of course.)
However, they do genuinely perform far better than a standard thin-walled glass in keeping your beer cool, and aesthetically they score a good seven or eight as well, against the minus 15 of the traditional Nonik.
I’m not sure it’s altogether good to be the person whose name pops up when the question is asked: “Who can we get to burble on for 20 minutes about the history of beer glasses?”, but at least it got me drinking at someone else’s expense in the Met Bar in Old Park Lane, where the manager boasts that every top celebrity worth naming has parked their A-list posterior on his surprisingly shabby red leather banquettes. (And drinking at someone else’s expense is definitely what you want to be doing at the Met, when a small bottle of Meantime pale ale, £1.50 or so in Waitrose, is £8 – that’s not quite £14 a pint.)
My invitation to the Met Bar was to add a little history to a tasting organised by Spiegelau, the Austrian glassware company, to promote their new range of beer glasses.
Each of the glasses has been designed so that, in theory, it brings out the best in a particular beer style, or range of styles. The 500ml, slightly waisted, wide-mouthed glass is best, according to Georg Riedel, president of Spiegelau, for strong English ales and helles-style lagers. The tall wheat beer glass is made for – well, you can work that out. A stemmed tulip-shaped glass has been designed for Pilsner-style lagers, and is also good for Belgian ales, Spiegelau says.
But does the shape of the glass really make a difference? Yes, I was surprised to find it most definitely does, and not just to the aroma. Of the four beers at the tasting, the biggest change from glass to glass was with the Innis & Gunn, the oak-aged beer from Scotland. The “wheat” glass accentuated the vanilla/oaky elements in the beer, the “pilsner” glass in contrast brought the toffee/caramel notes right up front, but the “ale” glass, while delivering a distinctly thinner mouthfeel, allowed much more of the complexity in the beer to come through.