One of the things that I love about the beer-nerd world is our tendency to get our knickers in a bunch about things that really don’t matter. This is true of any nerdly endeavor, I suppose. It’s not exclusive to beer.
The latest earth-shaking controversy came a few days ago when glassmaker Spiegelau released this video to introduce a new IPA-worthy glass designed in conjunction with Ken Grossman and Sam Calagione, founders of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head respectively.
My goodness, you would think the two men had announced that they were going to cease making beer. Reaction was swift and severe from both supporters and detractors. Pennsylvania beer writer Lew Bryson said on Facebook of the new glass, “Jesus H. Christ. More prescriptive bullshit about how we’re supposed to drink our beer. Every beer I have today, I’m going to drink right out of the bottle or can, or in a shaker glass. And they’ll taste great.” The comment thread got pretty crazy with oppressed drinkers claiming that the existence of the glass was ruining the whole experience of drinking beer. Stephen Beaumont fired back with a blog post in which he exposed himself as a glass dork, and reminded people that it is just a glass after all. No one was pointing a gun at anyone’s head forcing them use it.
The controversy really heated up a couple days later when A Good Beer Blog revealed that the painstakingly designed IPA glass was strikingly similar to a wine glass made by Spiegelau parent company Riedel. The glass-making beer-brewing team hadn’t in fact done anything unique. This was a bald-faced rehashing of been-there-done-that glassware design. The whole thing was just a marketing ploy – a cynical scheme to separate gullible nerds from their money. The comment threads got vicious now, as detractors and supporters exchanged brutal verbal lashings. The brewers weren’t spared the hyperbolic attacks. According to one commenter, Dogfish Head (arguably the most creative brewery in the country for better or worse) had never done anything truly revolutionary in its entire existence.
Turns out that all the huff-n-puff was for naught. The very next day Beer Pulse published a statement from Sam Calagione freely admitting that the Riedel wine glass had served as the basis for the IPA glass. They had in fact, tested many different Riedel and Spiegelau designs on the way to their ideal cup. “Traits of various glasses that boosted the hop aromas and flavors of IPAs helped inform the direction of our glass,” he said, “but the final design came from carefully refining eight original hand-blown glasses. This wasn’t plucked from a shelf.” No need to reinvent the wheel when you can poke, prod, and tweak a design that already exists.
Well my curiosity was piqued to say the least. I had to put this glass to the test. I requested. They delivered (and very quickly, I might add).
I pitted the glass against a standard shaker pint and my very favorite Spiegelau tulip glass. I poured Surly Abrasive, a beer with beaucoup hop aroma and flavor, the profile of which I know fairly well. I cleaned each glass in the same way prior to the tasting and made an effort to give each a similarly aggressive pour. I compared each glass for aroma, appearance, and flavor. There are a couple of caveats. First, I am a glass dork. I like fancy glassware. The only thing I drink out of a shaker pint at home is water. Second, one can’t test glassware blind. Although I tried to be as objective as possible, my ultimate experience could be colored by my preconceptions.
So how did they fare?
While the glass itself is not especially attractive, I have to give the IPA glass the edge. The agitating ribs at the base of the glass and the laser-etched nucleation points kept a decent head going long after the others had fallen flat. In fact, I had foam all the way to the bottom of the glass. That etching also kept the beer sparkly with little bubble continuously rising up from the bottom. It looked real purtty.
This was the most interesting area of assessment. The real surprise was the shaker pint. Raising it to my nose I got a burst of citrus and tropical fruit that was totally unexpected. It delivered the brightest aromatic expression by far. The big disappointment was my beloved tulip. I described its olfactory effect as “meh…not much there.” The IPA glass gave the same citrus and tropical fruit punch as the pint, but smoothed out – not as bright. The components were more clearly articulated. Tropical fruit was specifically and intensely mango. The fruit was deepened by other hop notes like a very subtle chive. Once again the IPA glass takes it.
Here it was a virtual tie between the IPA glass and the tulip. The beer tasted nearly identical out of each glass, but subtle differences led me give the slightest preference to the IPA glass. In the tulip glass the beer was a touch brighter, crisper and pricklier. The emphasis was tilted slightly more to bitterness over fruity hop flavor. The IPA glass rounded and smoothed the experience, shifting it a bit toward flavor over bitterness. The carbonation had less tingle.
In my final assessment I rate the IPA glass a success. It provided a rounder and smoother experience with a fuller expression of flavor and aroma. If you like hoppy brews and enjoy geeking-out on glassware, then pick up a couple. You’ll love them. If fancy glasses aren’t your thing, the difference may not be significant enough to make it worth your while.
<EDIT> To make sure I’m perfectly clear. I gave the edge to the IPA glass, but with the exception of appearance the difference was marginal. I was trying to be really picky and precise.