My view is that until very recently, the majority of beer glassware selections have been based more on tradition than on what the glass actually delivers from the beer. Beer folk scream and wail about the cursed, straight-edged, shaker pint, but aside from larger volume and a bulbous protrusion that helps you keep hold of your glass when you’ve had one too many, I’d be hard pressed to say what a Nonic pint does that’s any better. And really, if you can’t grip your glass, it’s probably time to head home anyway.
When it comes to the right glass for the right juice, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. They have a glass for nearly every varietal. And instead of tradition, they use science to design glassware that delivers the best experience from each grape. They pay attention to aromatic dispersion. They shape each glass type to deliver wine to just the right location on the tongue. To paraphrase glass maker George Riedel, “Wine glass design isn’t about emotion, it’s about physics.” Don’t believe it makes a difference? Take a Riedel class and see for yourself.
But beer glassware is coming of age. In the last couple years brewers have been collaborating with Riedel subsidiary Spiegelau to design beer-specific glassware with particular styles in mind. The first was the IPA glass designed with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head that came out in 2013. While it was met with vociferous controversy in the beer blogosphere, my own comparative test found it to be at least minimally effective at delivering a better IPA experience.
Now comes the stout glass created by Spiegelau in collaboration with Rogue and Left Hand. Compared to the IPA glass, the announcement of the stout glass was greeted with relative silence. I’ve seen nary a blog post or tweet saying “yay” or “nay” regarding its efficacy. With that in mind I decided to give it a try.
The promotional materials for the glass make four main claims.
- The voluminous, open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into the main bowl.
- Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation of stout beer.
- Wider, conical bowl significantly amplifies aromas and also provides superior flow to mid palate, improving the taste, mouthfeel and finish of complex stout beers.
- Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.
To test these claims I pitted the new glass against the standard shaker pint and a Spiegelau tulip glass. Each glass was washed at the same time, using the same protocol. A full bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout was poured into each with similar vigor. I evaluated each glass for appearance, aroma, and flavor. One caveat must be stated. It is impossible to do a blind taste test of glassware, therefore it is possible that my evaluation was skewed by my subjective impression of each glass.
So how did the stout glass do?
Contrary to Spiegelau’s claims about the stout glass, I did not notice any significant enhancement of the cascading effect in the foam. In fact, there was no cascading in any of the three glasses at all. I’m told that you have to pour pretty aggressively to get that from the Nitro Milk Stout. I apparently did not pour aggressively enough. That said, in terms of head formation and retention it was a toss-up between the stout glass and the shaker pint. Both formed a dense, creamy, half-inch head that stuck around for the entirety of my test – about 20 minutes. The stout glass has etched nucleation points on the bottom, but that didn’t seem to make a difference in this case. The tulip glass formed less head and the retention was considerably shorter. Both the tulip and shaker pint left the beer inky black and opaque. The narrower bottom on the stout glass did allow for a better evaluation of color and clarity. The design of the stout glass is attractive and certainly makes a stronger impression than the other two glasses.
For overall effect on appearance I give the edge to the stout glass.
Here is where the biggest difference was seen, and the stout glass really delivered. The shaker pint gave only the faintest of aromatic impressions – vague notes of coffee and bitter chocolate with no hop aromatics. The tulip allowed for a more layered experience of the roasted malts, with stronger coffee and chocolate character coming through. The stout glass exploded with olfactory satisfaction. Overall the aromas were far richer and more nuanced. Textured tones of café mocha with subtle dry-roasted, Oreo-cookie chocolate became apparent. My notes say “coffee and cream.” Faint licorice and herbal hop aromatics were also apparent.
For overall aromatic delivery the stout glass wins hands down.
Here is was a tie between the stout glass and the tulip. The shaker pint gave a full-flavored experience, but it seemed overly thick and sweet – more milk chocolate than bittersweet. In contrast, both the tulip and the stout glass emphasized a drier roast. The milk stout sweetness was there mid-palate, but better balanced with roasted malt and hop bitterness – less milkshake-like than from the shaker pint. The coffee and cream character came through in both, as did the bittersweet chocolate.
Finding very little difference between the flavors from the stout or the tulip glass, I declare it a tie.
Based on its slight edge in appearance and huge lead in aromatics, I give the Spiegelau stout glass a hearty thumbs up. It delivers the goods and looks stylish as well. There is one downside to this glass though. It is a total pain in the ass to clean. The bowl on top is tall enough that it is impossible to reach to the bottom. I had to use a fork to move my sponge around in the base. But if you are a glass geek it is probably worth the effort.