Want to really enjoy a good beer? Buying better stuff is a good start, but the right glass and a good pour go a long way. We asked a certified beer sommelier to walk us through the perfect glass and pouring techniques.
Ethan Cox, co-founder of Community Beer Works, a nano-brewery currently gestating in Buffalo, New York, is a Certified Cicerone. In short, he knows his beer, and he knows how to serve it. I spent some time looking at Cox's glassware collection, and he was kind enough to explain why certain glasses worked better with certain beers, and why it really mattered, along with some pouring tips.
What did we learn? A number of things we'd been too chicken to admit we didn't know around our more discerning beer snob friends. A full explanation and demonstration is found in the video, but here's the shortlist:
• The standard wide-mouth "shaker" glasses that American bars use and sell? They get at D+ or C-, at best, in presenting beer. As Cox put it, "They get some credit for holding liquid in a consistent shape and not leaking." They're thick, allow your hand to warm your beer, aren't tolerant of foamy pours, and just drop the liquid into the front of your mouth. They're not made for any particular kind of beer, and they were never intended for beer - they were the bottom half of a drink shaker setup, hence the name.
• "Nonic" glasses (as in "no nick", because they stack without nicking one another), the standard "pint glass" in the UK and Europe, are a bit better, if only because they can hold a 16-ounce beer and its foam, and widen a bit to allow for more aeration of the beer and release of flavours.
• Samuel Adams's Ultimate Boston Lager Glass, also known as the "Perfect Pint", is not cheap, unless you find a bulk or combo deal. It's almost ridiculous too in its obsessive design. But Cox, and many other beer fans, love it for hitting all the right notes at once: narrow holding stem, widened shape for releasing aromatics, a lip that sends beer toward the parts of your mouth more (generally) receptive to sweet, barley-type flavours, and laser etching on both the bottom of the glass (bubble stream) and the lip (agitation) to keep the beer effervescent and interesting.
• The tulip glass is Cox's desert island pick. It has the same qualities as Sam Adams's engineered glass, but allows for more swirling, even less beer warm-up, and even includes the same laser-etched "nucleation point" at its bottom.
• There's a lot of attention paid to smell (or "aromatics") and glasses that prevent warming. It's for good reason. Drinkers commonly avoid the last swigs of cheap commercial beer, complaining that it's "backwash" or otherwise blemished. It's really because that beer is now warm, and beer should not get warm. It also shouldn't be served ice cold, however, as that prevents the full release of flavour — flavour you feel more fully if you can smell your beer in a bigger way. Most good beers, or at least their brewing websites, will offer suggestions on the best temperature for serving.
• The hefeweizen (or wheat beer) pouring, taking advantage of a taller glass for more foam, was done by yours truly. I read up on differing takes on the perfect wheat beer pour, including hard-line believers in rolling the bottle around on the table before finishing the pour. I stuck with swirling the last third of the beer in the bottle before finishing the pour. If I had to shoot it again, I'd have a more gentle, angled pour on the first part, and I'd pour a bit less in on the second. Some people don't mind a little yeast sediment in their beer, myself included, while others should just be careful not to tip their bottle too much toward the end.
There is, however, a more fun way to pour a hefeweizen or pilsner into a tall glass, get the same kind of thick head on top and impress your friends to boot. For this, we'll let a robot demonstrate:
(For another take on robotic pouring, using a more "proper" technique, see this counterpoint.)
Next up are the credits for all those pictures and music, so we'll note here that if you know of another great resource for burgeoning beer aficionados — especially with illustrations, videos or plain language — we welcome their links, and your disagreements, in the comments.
Soundtrack and picture credits
- Music: "Whiskey on the Mississippi" by Kevin MacLeod
- Face-through-the-glass picture ("doesn't let light through"): timparkinson
- Aroma smelling ("doesn't capture aromas"): quinn.anya
- Hefeweizen poured into glass: Wikimedia
- Harvest HeffeWeizen logo ("have wheat in them"): micheco
- Winter wheat flower: Wikimedia
- Taste bud diagram: Wikimedia