Glassware – it makes a difference. So do beer snobs.
On glassware, case in point: the Tripel from the previous post. (By the by, tangential props and gratitude to my friend Ian at the Four Firkins for the bitching Karmeliet stemware seen in those photos.) We had a bottle of the Tripel out of an inexpensive, thick-walled Libbey goblet the night before – exact same cellar temperature, exact same case and type of bottles – and another from the Karmeliet on salmon night. It was an entirely different beer in the bigger-bowled, thinner-walled, taller and more fluted glass: the spicy and fruity aromas were more pronounced and distinctive, easier to distinguish; and the sweet notes of the malt and alcohol came through much, much better.
And I haven’t had the privilege to try the new Riedel IPA glass yet, but citizens who have done side by side tastings with them have related to your author that this glass is a net positive for hop/nasal cavity interfacing.
Before we continue, a disclaimer: I have been accused of being a beer snob. Mea culpa. But I am also an unapologetic owner and user of shaker pints. Most days I’d rather have a pale ale, pils, mild, dry stout … a session beer, if you will … than a vintage sour or 10% abv anything. I like my Karmeliet glass and I also unironically like Coors Banquet, and I’m not above drinking beer from the bottle or can, especially in a boat. So, as I imagine it is for most of you as well, it’s complicated.
Back on track to beer snobs: there has been a nice convo over at Brewpublic this week on the problematic side of beer snobbery. Lots of good points, but I can’t help but consider that, just by drinking craft beer, we’re all a little bit snobbish and exclusionary by definition. This is, after all, a subculture that gets off on going against the grain, and which defines itself as much by what it is not (“macro,” “corporate,” something a Lite beer drinker would enjoy) as by what it is (which is malleable from year to year and subject to interpretation and debate). Public image and marketing aside, it’s pretty tough to call a 6.5% share of the market the demographic norm and $20 bombers populist. Sounds a bit elitist, actually. Kind of boutique.
And I’m okay with that. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not all bad. It’s good to not settle. There was at the very least one little pebble of snobbery amongst the rocks that helped to start the craft brewing avalanche: some iconoclasts in the 1970s cast down their frosty pop-tops and fatefully pronounced “inadequate,” or “not as good as I had in Europe,” and then went and threw a bunch more hops and malt into their repurposed dairy equipment, and here we are today.
Here’s what I’m saying: actual market share aside, craft beer is still a big tent, yes? Let’s leave a little room in the corner for the snobs, be they unapologetic or obnoxious or complicated or otherwise, because they are the custodians of style and the watchdogs of quality in an era of explosive change for the American beer scene.
Historically, beer has happily and successfully filled every niche from the daily bread of workers and religious ascetics to a vintage-dated luxury item for the groaning boards of the landed gentry. It still does that for us, from commemorating birth, death, and marriage, to taking the edge off after a grueling stint on the lawn mower or fueling partisanship at intramural softball games. Ten year old gueze in a dusty bottle? Birthday dinner, maybe don’t share. Three percent abv bitter on a handpump? Fill Imperial pints all the way to overflowing, all night every night. Beer has been and still can be whatever we need it to be, socially and gastronomically, day in and day out.
That same kind of jack-of-all-trades dynamic balance can and should be brought to our appreciation and consumption, too. Too much preciousness is exhausting and obnoxious; but too much complacency as a consumer base gets us beverage monoculture.
And from now on you’re damn right I’m getting out the fanciest-ass glass every time for the 10% Tripel I’ve been cellaring for 2 years.
So, glassware. How do you drink your beer? A glass for every style and a style in its own glass, hand-wash with baking soda and hot water only, Cicerone at home? Whatever’s reasonably clean and can hold 16 ounces without leaking? Some happy medium?