Spiegelau/Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada IPA Glass: How’s it Rate?

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).

IPA glass test

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.

SAVOR Flowers from Sam Adams and Dogfish Head

A most interesting beer crossed my path. SAVOR Flowers was a collaborative effort of Boston Beer Company and Dogfish Head. It was created for and exclusively served at SAVOR, the Brewers Association’s annual beer and food bash in Washington, DC. Flowers is a beer befitting the Kings of extreme. The press release says of it:

Jim (Koch) and Sam (Calagione) decided to tackle beer’s previously untapped ingredient – water – and, through and age-old distillation process, created a rosewater base to be used as the main liquid in the brew. The rosewater inspired them to continue to explore the idea of brewing with flowers. After experimenting with a range of varieties, they landed on dried lavender, hibiscus, jasmine and rosebuds mixed in during the brewing process to further enhance the beer’s botanical qualities. As well, on his annual hop selection trip to Bavaria last year, Jim learned about a new hop breed known only as #369, grown for its amped-up floral notes. He was able to obtain 30 pounds of this unique variety from the Yakima, Wash. growing region, adding another dimension to this complex brew.

After all that they aged it in “Barrel One – the same bourbon barrel Jim used to age the premier batch of the first ‘extreme’ beer, Samuel Adams® Triple Bock.” Wow! WTF. Here’s my notes:

SAVOR Flowers
Boston Beer Company & Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
Style: Vegetable, Herb, Spice Beer
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: Granny’s soap. Floral. Lavender, roses, and hibiscus. Like walking into a Body Works store at the mall.

Appearance: Cloudy. The color is a vaguely pink amber. Fluffy white head that was moderately persistent.

Flavor: This beer changed throughout the tasting. It started off sharp and planty; roses and lavender with light tart background notes of hibiscus. Bitterness was unexpectedly high, but then what led me to otherwise? High levels of herbal/floral hops emphasized the flowers. As it warmed a rich caramel maltiness crept in, underpinned by raisins and dark fruit. This didn’t reduce the botanical flavors in the least. It merely gave them something on which to rest. Still warmer, it took on almost Belgian cotton-candy flavors; sweet, but still finishing dry with hints of licorice and geraniums. I guessed around 8% ABV. Actually 10%.

Mouthfeel: Medium-high body. Somewhat syrupy as it warms. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This was a most unique beer. Did I like it? “Like” is such a limiting term. I found it irresistibly intriguing. While I don’t know that I would run out to buy a bottle were it available, the beer’s complexity compelled me, almost against my better judgement, to finish this one. My initial impression was one of admiring the effort and creativity, but not so much the beer. But it grew on me. The endless layers of flavors that came in as the beer warmed grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. But did I like it? Hmmmm……..

Autumnal Ales Recap

Continuing on the fall beer kick, the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club met on Friday night to enjoy some of the best beers that autumn has to offer. Eleven of us gathered at the home of club member Loren to sit by the fireplace and sample nine great brews, including a good number of local and regional selections.

Furthermore Fallen AppleThe night began with Fallen Apple, the quintessential autumn offering from Furthermore Beer in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Light and refreshing, but surprisingly high in alcohol, this tasty, tart, cider/beer blend was loved by all in attendance. One member reported that while she didn’t like cider, Fallen Apple tasted enough like beer to overcome that. It was one of her favorites for the night.

Next up was Wisconsin Amber from Capital Brewery, another regional brew from Wisconsin. Capital specializes in German style lager beers. Wisconsin Amber is a smooth, balanced Vienna style lager. The sweet, toasty malt is dominant, but is well balanced by spicy German hops and a crisp lager finish. A couple of the more beer-knowledgeable members commented that they had always passed this beer up with the thought, “Wisconsin Amber…how interesting could that be?” They won’t be passing it up any more. Wisconsin Amber was the second favorite beer of the night overall.

From there we went for another essential autumn beer, pumpkin ale. We had two examples to sample and compare, Ichabod from Michigan’sDogfish Head Punkin Ale New Holland Brewing Company and Punkin’ from Dogfish Head in Delaware (thanks Stephanie). Ichabod is a session pumpkin beer, more beery than pumpkin, with rich caramel malt and nutty butterscotch flavors supporting subdued pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. The offering from Dogfish Head is more intense. Higher alcohol, full-bodied caramel malt, and an explosion of pumpkin and spice make this a more interesting beer overall, but one that you may not want to drink more than one. Both were tasty. In the end it comes down to whether you want a nice session beer or a high-intensity pumpkin experience.

The KaiserFor Oktoberfest, we dispensed with the traditional and went for the tweaked. The first of these was Surlyfest from Surly Brewing. Surlyfest has the toasty, caramel heart of a traditional Oktoberfest cranked up with spicy rye malt and higher levels of hopping for a sharply bitter/spicy bite. This was another crowd favorite, which was a surprise to some who did not expect to enjoy a bitter Surly brew. The other Oktoberfest was The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest from Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colorado. This 9.3% ABV bruiser of a beer received a mixed reception. While some liked the intensely sweet malt, others found it offensively boozy and perhaps a bit overly sweet.

You can’t talk about fall beers without a wet-hop IPA. For this, I selected Harvest Ale from Founders Brewing. Unfortunately I selected and purchased this beer for the event before trying it. You can read my review below. While a couple members enjoyed it, most did not. The general consensus was that “this was not so much a hoppy beer as straight-up unsweetened grapefruit juice.” Even the usual hopheads among us had difficulty with this one. It was the only beer to remain untouched during the “free-for-all” following the formal tasting.

The remaining two beers were Autumnal Fire from Capital Brewery and Chestnut Hill from the local Lift Bridge Brewing. Capital calls Autumnal FireAutumnal Fire a “doppelbock based on an Oktoberfest personality.” I have no idea what they mean by this, but the beer makes a mighty fine doppelbock in my view. It’s a smooth and malty brew with a bit of alcohol warmth and loads of raisiny dark fruit flavors. Some felt the raisin was a bit too intense. Others liked it precisely because of the intense raisin flavors. Lift Bridge’s Chestnut Hill was the nearly unanimous favorite of the night. One of my Autumn Brew Review top five picks, Chestnut Hill is brown ale for those who think that brown ale is synonymous with boring. Packed with toasty, nutty, caramel malt, balancing spicy/herbal hop flavor and bitterness, and just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon spice, this is one delicious brew. It’s only available on tap and the supply is running out. You will need to get it soon if you want to get it at all…unless the Lift Bridge guys can be convinced to make more.

If you want more information about the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club go here and request to become a member.

Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu

Chatuau Jiahu is the third historical recreation beer that Dogfish Head has undertaken. This one was cobbled together from the analyzed remains taken from 9000 year old pottery jars discovered in China. Brewed with barley malt, rice, muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit, and chrysanthemum flowers, this beer just screamed at me from the shelf. “Try me!” it said, “Try me!” So I did. I took it from the shelf, walked back to my hotel, and anxiously waited for it to chill in the little refrigerator. This will either be really good or really bad.” I though.

Dogfish Head Chateau JiahuChateau Jiahu
Dogfish Head, Milton, Delaware
Style: 9000 year old historical recreation
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Vinous, white grape. Light toast. Twigs. Pears. Sugary sweetness but not a cloying impression.
Appearance: Golden and clear(?) (At least I think so. I’m drinking it from a black styrofoam hotel cup so it’s hard to tell.) Thick, creamy, persistent, off-white foam.
Flavor: Sweet, heavy. A bit syrupy. Explosions of fruit, pear nectar, white grape, strawberry, peaches and cream. Lightly nutty and toasty. Faint sweet alcohol. Herbal mint and woodruff notes come in and out. Vanilla. Floral. Green apple. Some wine like acidity adding tartness that compliments the sweet. Will the flavors ever stop revealing themselves? Finish is sweet lingering long on herbal, nutty honey.
Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and thick. Creamy. Tongue coating, but not unpleasant. Low carbonation but leaves an interesting tingle in the back of the throat on the way down.
Overall Impression: My first swallow was, “what the heck is this?” But it grew on me quickly. Complexity is what this beer is all about. Multiple overlapping and intertwining flavors of fruit, herbs, and earth. The flavors just keep coming. The sweetness will limit consumption. I have a 750 ml bottle sitting in front of me. I Doubt I will be able to finish it. Not because of taste or alcohol, it’s just too full-bodied and sweet. Drink this one at just a touch below room temperature for the full flavors to come out.