Spiegelau/Bell’s Brewery Wheat Beer Glass: How’s it Rate?

Wheat beer glass

When it comes to glassware, cialis sale the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. I often use wine glasses to serve beer at tasting events. Why? Because they work. Wine glass shapes maximize the delivery of aromatics that are vitally important to the experience of any good beverage. Using the correctly shaped glass for the different varietals of wine makes a difference. Don’t believe me? Take a Riedel glass class at one of the local cooking schools and you will be convinced.

Modern wine glass design is based on physics. Bowl shapes are carefully designed to retain and deliver aromatics. Glass lips are structured to deliver wine to specific parts of the tongue. Beer glassware on the other hand is, illness I believe, cure mostly based on tradition. That isn’t to say that some glassware designs don’t work to deliver a great drinking experience. I think the tulip and German wheat beer glasses are great. But others serve more as nostalgia than actually effective delivery devices. For instance, everyone hates the shaker pint. But I’d be hard pressed to say what the beloved nonic pint glass does for the sensory experience of beer that the shaker does not.

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This is beginning to change. Spiegelau, the Riedel subsidiary that makes beer glassware as well as wine stems, has been working with brewers to design glassware especially suited to different types of beer. First came an IPA glass. Next was a stout glass. Now they have teamed up with the folks at Bell’s to design a glass for wheat beers – specifically American and Belgian wheat beers.

I support these efforts. It’s time for the beer world to look beyond tradition and explore glassware that will give the best possible sensory experience of different beer styles. I think though, that the results have so far been mixed. I gave the IPA glass a marginal thumbs up. But the stout glass delivered all that was promised.

So how does the wheat beer glass stack up?

I put it to the test against a standard shaker pint and a tulip glass. I tested with both an American wheat beer and a Belgian witbier. The glasses were cleaned in an identical manner. Each was rinsed with cold water just prior to testing. Effort was made to fill each glass with equal volume and to pour with equal vigor. As with all of these tests the disclaimer must be made that glassware can’t be tested blind. My evaluation may have been colored by preconceptions or expectations. I tried to be objective.

These are the claims made by Spiegelau.

  • Large, voluminous bowl harnesses and retains the delicate aromas of wheat beer.
  • Mouth opening delivers beer evenly across the palate to enhance mouth feel and harmony of sweetness and acidity.
  • Laser cut lip ensures crisp, clean delivery in every sip.
  • Open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into main bowl after every sip.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

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My evaluation.

Snapshot
New Belgium Brewing Company
Style: American Wheat Beer
5% ABV
13 IBU
Special Ingredients: Coriander, Grains of Paradise, Lactobacillus

Aroma: The difference was significant. The shaker pint flattened everything, giving nice lime citrus notes, but lacking any bready wheat or spicy yeast character. The tulip delivered a more layered experience with more of the pepper and wheat. The step up to the wheat beer glass was huge. The aromatics overall were brighter with more layers of complexity. Citrus and bready wheat were in fine balance. Added notes of bubblegum and peppery spice were evident.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: As with the aroma, the shaker pint dulled everything, leaving a thin and flat sensory experience with an unpleasant, lingering bitterness. The tulip emphasized the citrus fruitiness and acidity of the beer, but also retained some bready wheat and a touch of sweetness to balance. The wheat beer glass emphasized the wheat and spice at the expense of the brighter fruit notes. The rougher edges of flavor were smoothed out, giving a somewhat flattened experience.

Mouthfeel: The beer in the shaker pint seemed under carbonated and lacked liveliness. The tulip glass held the carbonation better, giving a bright and sparkling experience. The wheat beer glass smoothed the prickly carbonation and delivered what felt like a fuller mouthfeel.

Overall Impression: The shaker pint was the clear loser here, giving an overall dull and lifeless sensory experience. While the wheat beer glass was heads and tails the winner in terms of delivery of aromatics, my overall glass pick for this beer was the tulip. The sparkling, bright quality of the flavors and mouthfeel was more interesting and pleasing. I preferred the emphasis on fruit and acidity that resulted in a better-balanced flavor.

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Wittekerke
Brouwerij Bavik, Bavikhove West Flanders, Belgium
Style: Belgian Witbier
5% ABV
11 IBU
Special Ingredients: Orange Peel and Coriander

Aroma: Aromatics in the shaker pint were low overall. Fruitiness was emphasized with faint acidic, lemony notes. The tulip delivered a fuller experience that still emphasized citric fruit. Orange was prominent and obviously orange. There was some perception of bready wheat. The wheat beer glass delivered a fantastically full aromatic experience. Saltine cracker-like wheat was prominent with some bready/yeasty notes. Fruit was in proper balance with the grain base – oranges and lemons. The floral coriander came through. All of the aromas melded better.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: Flavor delivery from the shaker pint was low overall, emphasizing lemony fruit with subtle, cracker-like wheat and coriander underneath. Flavors from the tulip were crisp, sharp and lively with fruit as the dominant note – orange, lemon. The wheat base came through clearly and the coriander made a pleasant appearance. The wheat beer glass deemphasized the fruitiness in favor of the wheat. The orange peel tasted like pithy orange peel. Coriander was pushed forward, leaving a somewhat soapy impression.

Mouthfeel: The shaker pint and wheat beer glass both left the beer feeling somewhat under carbonated. The tulip better maintained the high level of carbonation expected from the style.

Overall Impression: Once again the shaker pint proved itself inferior, delivering an overall flat and lifeless sensory experience. Once again the wheat beer glass dominated in terms of aromatics. But the soapy coriander and the lessened fruit character left me longing for the brighter, better balanced flavors from the tulip glass.

To sum it up

the wheat beer glass delivers everything promised in terms of aromatic experience. It provides a much fuller nose with clearly articulated layers of aromas that the other glasses just cannot match. In terms of flavor however, the wheat beer glass seemed to flatten things in a way that made them less interesting. The bright acidity from the tulip glass was lost in the wheat beer glass and the articulation of flavors became a bit muddy. In terms of appearance it was a tie between the tulip and the wheat beer glass that depends mostly in which glass shape the drinker finds more appealing.

Although the aromatics of the wheat beer glass far surpassed the tulip, the brighter flavor experience from the tulip leaves me leaning toward it. For American wheat and witbier I’ll stick with my tulip.

As a side note, I tried a couple other non-wheat beer styles in the glass. In each case the result was the same. Aromatics were awesome. Flavors were just a bit flattened.

Spiegelau/Rogue/Left Hand Stout Glass: How’s it Rate?

spiegelau-stout-glass

My view is that until very recently, drugstore 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, prostate straight-edged, seek 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.

Stout Glass Test

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?

Appearance

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.

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Aroma

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.

Flavor

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.

Conclusion

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.

The stout glass is available for order at www.spiegelauUSA.com. Branded versions can be had at www.rogue.com and www.lefthandbrewing.com.

Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland

locallybrewed

The Midwest is the historic center of the American brewing industry. While brewing in this country may have begun on the East Coast, discount it was the mid-19th century German immigrants who settled in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis that built it up from a collection of small businesses into an industrial juggernaut that wielded significant economic and political clout. Names like Frederick Miller, pharm Joseph Schlitz, Valentin Blatz, Frederick Pabst, and Adolphus Busch are still legendary for their achievements. Theirs were among the first truly national brewing concerns. The agitation of the men (and it was mostly men) who worked for them was foundational in the formation of the American labor movement. The significance of the early Midwestern beer industry cannot be overstated.

For the last few decades though, the position of the Midwest has been viewed in a mostly negative light by fans of better beer. The region remained a powerhouse, but of a much diminished industry. The smaller, regional producers mostly gone, Miller and Anheuser-Busch dominated the market producing hundreds of millions of barrels of beers that were largely indistinguishable. Their marketing budgets and market leverage made it difficult for the new craft beer movement to gain a foothold.

And so, in what had been the beer capital of the nation, craft beer was slow to get going. Like so many fashion trends, the movement came in from the coasts. That’s not to say that there weren’t significant pioneers in the region. Breweries like Summit, Schell’s, Boulevard, James Page, Capital, Goose Island and others worked hard to create a solid foundation upon which later-comers could build. But the real wave has only recently arrived. It corresponds with the boom that is happening across the country, but here in the nation’s symbolic beer center the result has been particularly exciting. Both in terms of the pace of growth and the quality of product, the Midwest is once again assuming a position of importance.

Anna Blessing’s new book Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland does a good job of tracing this return to prominence. Blessing gives revealing profiles of twenty breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The profiles are arranged chronologically according to the brewery’s date of founding, allowing the reader to follow the development of the region’s craft beer scene. The portraits reveal the transformation of the hurdles each brewer faced from one of building a consumer base into a struggle to keep up with demand.

Blessing says that her passion is finding and learning about the people who do what they love practicing their craft. Her last book, Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland, showcased Midwestern farmers at the center of the local food movement. For her a book on small, local brewers was a natural follow-up. She says that beer is in her blood. She was raised in Portland, Oregon, perhaps the craft beer capital of the nation. She is a distant descendant of the owners of the Stenger Brewery that operated in Naperville, Illinois in the 1800s.

Blessing’s easy to read and engaging profiles tell the story of each brewery’s beginnings and then go on to describe some interesting tidbit about the place, be it the history of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day or Jolly Pumpkin brewer Ron Jeffries’ insights on brewing sour beers in the US. Mostly the book is about the people behind the breweries, as they describe their experiences founding and running their operations.

If you go into any brewery you are likely to hear music blaring over the din of fork lifts, bottling lines, and brew kettles. Music and brewing are almost inseparable. Blessing pays homage to this by including a brewery playlist in each profile, a touch that gives a unique glimpse into the psyche of each place. One element of the book that I didn’t quite understand was the “Get a Pint” sidebar for each brewery. A complete listing of where to find each brewery’s wares would be impossible. As she only lists one to four for each, I fail to see the point. Perhaps they are in her view the best places to find the beers. I’m just not sure.

Three Minnesota brewers are featured among the profiles; August Schell, Surly, and Steel Toe.

Overall Blessings book is a quick and entertaining read that provides and interesting insight into craft beer in the heartland. It’s definitely worth a read. And as a selfish plug, it makes a great companion to my own A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, a guide to breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois that is due out this spring from the University of Illinois Press.

Sonic Foamer Ultrasonic Beer Surger

A while back I received an email from the marketer of a device called the Sonic Foamer. This coaster-like gizmo promises to deliver an enhanced beer-drinking experience by using ultrasonic vibrations to excite the CO2 in beer. At the push of a button these sound waves raise a thick, creamy head that propels the beer’s aromas from the glass. And as the company’s promotional video correctly states, most of what we taste is actually what we smell.

Guinness introduced an identical device in Great Britain in 2006 that they called the Guinness Surger. Its success must have been limited, as it seems now to only be available used on Amazon or Ebay. This current iteration was discovered in Japan where it is marketed as Sonic Hour, a play on the Japanese word for foam, “Awa.” The Japanese manufacturer Takara Tomy Arts makes all sorts of fun devices to foam your beer.

When I got the email I was intrigued. Who doesn’t want an enhanced beer-drinking experience? Who doesn’t like a fluffy cap of foam on their beer? Actually in this country a lot of people don’t, but that’s for another post.

I was intrigued, but I also had one big question nagging at my noggin. Why do I need this device? I can raise a perfectly fine head of foam just by executing a proper pour. And I’m accustomed to swirling my glass periodically to maintain that frothy aroma delivery system. Do I really need an extra gadget cluttering up my life to do something that I am capable of doing with just a glass and my hands? Does the Sonic Foamer deliver such stellar results that it bests the old-school, analog method?

I decided to put it to the test. I tested two beers, Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss. I split each equally into two identical, clean glasses. For one I used the Sonic Foamer according to instructions. The other was handled the old-fashioned way. I tested for aroma and foam.

Sonic Foamer Test #1

The Pour

The Sonic Foamer user’s manual instructs you to pour the beer without foam. It takes effort to pour a headless beer. The Foamer needed to leap a pretty high bar to make that extra effort worth it. In this case it didn’t deliver.

swirl vs surgeThe head raised by the Foamer was perfectly formed – beautifully smooth and creamy with exquisitely fine and uniform bubbles. It was much nicer looking, but shorter lived than the foam on the traditionally poured glass. By the time the head was gone on the Sonic Foamer beer I still had a good half inch on the other.

The aromatic delivery was disappointing. The traditionally-poured glass had much fuller and brighter hop and yeast character.

The Extended Experience

The user’s manual recommends keeping the Sonic Foamer nearby. When the head dies down, simply place the beer and push the button. That is what I did, periodically surging the Sonic Foamer test glass and swirling the other.

With every surge the Foamer delivered a gorgeous one-inch head. The perfectly formed head was consistently creamy and uniform. The swirled head fell short in this aesthetic evaluation. It was smaller, had inconsistent bubbles and shorter retention.

The aromatics were a wash. I could not discern any difference between the aromas of the surged versus the swirled glass.

Conclusion

So does the Sonic Foamer live up to its claims? Yes it does. It promises to deliver and maintain a perfect head that will carry the aromas out of the glass and into your nose. It does that. The foam raised by the device is aesthetically superior to that of a normally poured and swirled glass. It really is beautiful. And I’ll add that the thing is fun to watch. The bubbles form like magic in the glass with every push of the button. And those bubbles do deliver aroma.

But to answer my initial question of whether or not I need the thing, I have to say no. The actual drinking experience brought by the Sonic Foamer was just on par with the old-school method, and actually inferior on the initial pour. It’s easier to pour normally and swirl occasionally. And I don’t have to replace batteries in my arm.

And in case you’re curious, as I was, it takes about 30 surges to completely decarbonate a beer.

Draftmark Home Draft System

Father’s Day is just two days away and you don’t have a gift yet. To be honest, you haven’t even really thought about it. As you contemplate an appropriate present for dear old dad you hear a sucking sound and feel a light puff of air as all thought evacuates your brain. (Admittedly it’s mostly air in there anyway.) As you step through the front doors of Wal-Mart you become paralyzed; a deer caught in the headlights. You find yourself in some kind of Twilight Zone moment. You’re stationary in another dimension as the rest of the world buzzes around you in slow motion. The retiree greeter waves his welcome as though he were immersed in syrup. His “welcome to Wal-Mart” sounds like a 45 rpm record playing at 33. You hear an echoey rattle as a dude with a mullet and cut off T-shirt pushes a cart by on the left.

This is a good time for a beer. WAIT! Dad likes beer! There it is. The solution was right in front of you all along. You can do this.

If this is your situation, you might consider a home draft system. No, I don’t mean shelling out $600+ for a kegerator and keg, though that would be nice. I’m talking about one of those fit-in-the-fridge thingies. All the big brewers have got them. MillerCoors and Heineken rolled out first, but AB-InBev wasn’t far behind. Their Draftmark system was introduced in early 2012, but has only recently become available in the Twin Cities. I had the opportunity to give one of these devices a spin. It delivers exactly what it promises; draft beer in your refrigerator.

The premise of the thing is simple, though a wee bit mysterious. Beer comes in a one-gallon canister that looks a lot like a soda bottle. The canister is inserted into the machine and beer is poured from a tap faucet on the front. There is no CO2 cartridge. A battery operated compressor pushes the beer from the canister with air, but through some proprietary bottle-in-bottle technology the air never touches the beer. I haven’t figured out how this works, but I also haven’t tried very hard. The manufacturer claims that beer will stay fresh for up to 30 days.

What are the pros of the Draftmark system?

  • It’s inexpensive. $50 buys the machine and refill cartridges are $14-$16. That works out to about $1.50/12-ounce beer, slightly less than buying a sixpack.
  • Each refill cartridge comes with its own spout, so there is no need to worry about cleaning draft lines.
  • It’s easy to assemble and operate. Charge and insert the battery. Insert the spout. Place the bottle and twist. Pour beer.
  • It’s compact; about the size of a “fridge pack” of soda or a loaf of Wonder Bread.
  • It’s nice to have draft beer in the fridge.

The biggest downside is beer selection. It’s an AB-InBev product. You can only get AB-InBev products,  and precious few of those at present; Budweiser, Michelob Amber Bock, and Shock Top, along with a couple of better choices, Bass Ale and Goose Island Honkers Ale and IPA. Seeing as AB-InBev owns the world, there are other brands in their portfolio that would make for a more interesting assortment. They promise a wider selection in the future. Check here for a list of locations where refills can be purchased.

One note on use. Being a man, I didn’t read the manual until after using the thing. I became concerned when my first and second attempts poured pints of nothing but foam. The manual though says that this is normal, as the device has to charge.

The upshot: Would I rush out and buy one of these for myself? No. It’s kind of gimmicky. The beer selection is too limited and it just seems easier to get bottles or cans. But I have a gadget-loving, non-craft-beer-drinking brother-in-law for whom the system would be perfect.