Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Glassware


Glass is a fairly inert substance; it reacts with very little in normal use. This makes it an ideal substance to make drinking vessels out of. It's thermal properties make it more comfortable to drink out of than metal drinking containers and it's optical properties help our visual perception of the beverage we are drinking.

Most drinkers dislike plastic drinking vessels. Most drinkers would be put off if given a pint of beer in a large pot mug, even if it did conform to weights and measures legislation. Very few drinkers, except perhaps a few real nutters (you know who you are, keep up the good work) would drink out of pewter. Many drinkers dislike the dimple glass, although a few do morn it's passing.

The issues get a bit more interesting when we get on to the more subtle question of exactly what shape makes the perfect pint glass; some like the nonic, some like the tulip and some like the conical. Of course, it gets all a little bit more confusing when we talk about pint to the rim or pint to the line.

And then we have stemmed glasses. For beer? No, that's all far to poncy for beer drinkers, surely. Next we'll be drinking beer out of oversized wine glasses for goodness sake.

Well, for me, I think the type of glass that one drinks beer out of does influence the whole experience. Sure, the taste of the beer in the glass is the most important thing, a nice glass will not make rubbish beer any better and good beer is still good beer in any glass, providing of course the glass is clean and chip or scratch free.

This thread of thought started by me finding a picture on the internet of a pint of Hardknott beer in a glass of branding other than Hardknott. This started a discussion on twitter regarding the importance, or otherwise, of the glassware in a pub. I maintain that putting a drink in a glass with inappropriate branding is an inexcusable wrong in the pub trade. @NorthernWrites replied to me suggesting that if the beer is good then why worry about the branding on the glass? I want to try and explain why it is so very important and why I'd like to see much more emphasis put on getting it right in pubs.

I know there are a proportion of drinkers who really care very little about the branding on the glass. In some ways I feel they are lucky; even before I became a beer geek and even before I owned a pub it was something that irritated me. When we had our own pub we worked hard to try and avoid it happening, training staff, organising the shelves so that the correct branded glassware was available and looking after the glasses. I'd even go as far as to say our treatment of the subject was compulsive. So if you don't care, perhaps you are lucky not to have such a compulsive disorder.


I know that there are people to whom it does matter. I know there are people, generally the same ones that shuffle off into the corner and mutter to themselves about the carpets, wallpaper and curtains not matching, or that the music is poor choice, or that really the amount of iron work in that oinks face behind the bar is off putting1. Yes, the reader is probably right, they perhaps are in the bracket of customers that can never be happy. But really, putting the right drink in the right glass is not difficult, stacking the shelves so that the correct glass is to hand next to the normal point of dispense for that product is easy and plain unbranded glasses are not expensive so a stock can be kept in case the correct branding is not available.

Considering how easy it is to get it right and considering how easy it is to train staff to get it right it irritates me even more when it is overlooked. It shows a deep routed sloppy behaviour of management and staff in establishments. A proportion of drinkers notice these things and in my view that proportion are also the ones that are more discerning, more mature and likely to have more money in their pocket.

When it comes to branding there are even more reasons why a good beer establishment should care. The big companies put money into branded glassware. They give glassware away fairly liberally. Many pubs will avoid spending any money on glassware and depend upon the brand owners for all their drinking vessels. This results in an over abundance of major brand lager glasses. Perhaps this is a reason why major brands do so well. To me though, putting a pint of pongy real ale in a lager glass, or lager in a Guinness glass or even Guinness in a Jaipur glass is an insult to all brands, it mixes up the brand messages and overall is detrimental to the branding efforts put in by all the brand owners. It also undermines efforts we all put in within the industry to lift beer out of its bad image status.

What you drink says a lot about what you are. To the people who say they don't care about the branding on the glass I would ask them to consider this; Do you really not care if you are a craft beer drinker and you are seen with a glass that says "I'm drinking Fosters, actually"?. Are you comfortable with the fact that the bar person cares so little about you that they have effectively put a sign around your neck saying so? Would a craft beer drinker go to the pub wearing a T-shirt that had a brand name on that they didn't care for? Why then should we be happy to be seen in the pub holding a glass with the wrong branding on it?

I started this piece talking about the material and shape of the drinking vessel. These things are very important to the experience of drinking any beverage. When stood drinking a few pints in a busy pub with no spare seating a glass that is comfortable to hold is important. Even if sat quietly the drinker still appreciates the ease at which the glass is picked up to enable transit to the lips. More controversial in the beer world is the stemmed glass and even the use of big bulbous wine glasses. Well there are some technical reasons why wine glasses are stemmed and designed to be only half filled. Stems prevent the temperature of smaller measures, that might be dispensed for stronger beers, being effected by body heat through the hands or any conductive surface the glass is placed on. Furthermore, bowl shaped glasses do indeed show off the pongyness2 of beer very well indeed. The best glass I've found for this is from All Beer. Unfortunately, I broke both of mine.

With branded glasses the difficulty of knowing what is best for what beer has already been decided by the brewer. A good British session beer would probably be best in a tulip or conical. A Belgian wheat beer in an over-exaggerated tulip. Fruit beer should be in a stemmed glass. Trappiste in a big stemmed bowl. Perhaps a continental lager in one of those conicals with a big heavy base.

Finally, a comment from myBrewerytap points out that Belgium, who in my view have a very healthy beer branding attitude as well as a superior hospitality customer care approach are, in my experience anyway, very diligent in their approach to branded glassware. I could be wrong, but I suspect Belgium has a healthier beer export trade than the UK, perhaps that is part of the reason.

Drinking beer is a holistic experience. The colour of the beer, the carbonation, the temperature, taste and aroma matter. To most drinkers the light levels, music volume and choice, ambient noise and the company matter a lot. More subtle things like decor, cleanliness and demeanour of the staff all effect the drinking experience. The glass we drink out of is just another thing to add to the list.

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1And anyway, with that amount of piercings it makes you wonder what other anatomical areas have half a scrapyard rammed through them.

2Just for any casual readers who are unfamiliar with Cooking Lager's Blog, pongy is a reference the gent uses in relation to any beer that is not lout. We love his blog and his satirical approach to the beer world. I now find it difficult use the word "aroma" when referring to the smell of beer.

32 comments:

BeerReviewsAndy said...

WOW That's some post, i'm just going to make a cuppa to take it all in with ;op

i keep getting in trouble for getting more glasses, some of which can be seen here

http://www.flickr.com/photos/m17ogg/sets/72157622044404376/

Ed said...

The shape of the beer glass affects the taste, as it will alter the angle your head is at when you drink it which alters how you smell it.

MusicRab said...

I tried to raise the glassware subject a while ago but got no responses (but I'm new around here ;) I think the beer industry in general and pubs specifically are missing a trick here. But its not a trick is it? A visit to Belgium makes you realsise the importance, albeit a secondary one to the beer of-course, of tasteful glassware. Ok, the hardened 5-pint a night folk aren't going to care too much. But as an attraction to bring in casual beer drinkers I think its more than just a good idea...

RedNev said...

"Pong" is a derogatory term, used to refer to "a disagreeable or offensive smell; a stink" according to my dictionary. It is not a synonym for aroma. Cooking Lager must be laughing into his Foster's getting people who like real ale and craft beer to use such a term about their favourite drink.

The wrong glass bothers you but a completely unsuitable choice of words to describe beer doesn't. Curious.

Curmudgeon said...

There's a big difference between being served a Duvel in a Westmalle glass, and being served a pint of cask beer in a generic Guinness-branded tulip, to my mind. Frankly I'm not too bothered about the latter. And, of course, the prevalence of seasonal and guest beers in the cask beer market militates against branded glassware anyway.

And those stemmed Stella glasses are awful!

@RedNev: have you got out of the wrong side of bed this week??

Crown Brewer Stu said...

i was the first to vote woohoo.
I drink Jaipur in Champs when ever I go in and it always came in a John Smiths Smooth Glass, they have now bought some plain tulip glass's for there cask range.

Yvan said...

I went for "irritates me a little" in the poll. It depends though...

I've gotten used to getting pints in things like old Tetley's branded glassware and feel mildly irritated when this happens. Too often I get my pint in a Guinness glass, this is quite irritating. Once I got a pint in a Stella glass... this made me rather grumpy.

There's no excuse for a pub not to be well stocked with plain, unlabelled (preferably pint-to-line, IMO) glasses. They're pretty damn cheap - 20 quid for 48 from Nisbetts for example.

I don't think branded glassware is necessary for typical real ales, and may be impractical for pubs that get stock from a range of different breweries! That said, I do like getting a pint of Oakham in one of their nice branded glasses!

(At home I drink a lot of beer, especially stronger beers, from stemmed glasses. Sometimes wine glasses even, but I prefer my big ceramic Maredsous goblet... and now also my stemmed BrewDog glasses.)

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Are Coca Cola happy whne their drink is served in a Pepsi glass?

Do McDonald's call their drinks small medium and large?

Starbuck's even refuse to serve customers who say chilled coffee not Frappuccino!

Branding matters so brewers should look at their glassware, pump clips, bottle designs and product range as any competitive company should.

There'll always be people who don't care, but they might not be your profit makers anyway.

PS. Purity ale's glass is very good and not a million miles from All Beers.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HardKnott Dave said...

Nev, you are right of course, perhaps I shouldn't be so flippant especially after that piece in the Independent today.

Although I have a suspicion that Cookie enjoys a aromatic beer much more than he lets on.....

Chris King said...

I think there is a very fine line between being passionate about a debate, putting your argument across in a convincing manner - and then losing the reader because you've alienated them with your assumption.

The issue at hand is not whether i am discernible, whether i have money in my pocket or whether i notice - it does really boil down to whether i care. Which i don't.

I do notice. You do occasionally have to check - i've been poured something in a branded glass. Do i have what i want? That part of the transaction can be annoying, but as i asked on twitter - would any of those concerned actually send the beer back? The answer was a resounding no, with one comment of leaving the pub after that one drink - is that really enough to turn your custom away?

Some of the best beers i've tasted came in a thin, cheap, badly branded beer festival glass. I appreciate this is different concept, but still - no one was there to correct me on whether the glass was the right glass for the beer or the occasion. It didn't even taint the fact that i was drinking different beers from the same glass.

Clearly an issue we will have to agree to disagree on - but then this debate took place on the day the cask report came out, and resonated far more with me than the knowledge that women and younger drinkers were now more in to cask ale. What good is a great selection of beers, if the punters aren't happy with a simple thing like how their beer is being served?

PS - re discernible; i drink in plenty of places where the best i can hope for is Carlsbeg or Tetleys with a Nitrogen top. Maybe i should care more about the places i drink in, than the glass i hold ;)

Chris King said...

The point about Coke and Pepsi was discussed - as they have strict QA regulations as part of their sales agreement. You wouldn't get served Coke in a Pepsi glass in a chain or leasehold as ne'er the twain shall meet and all that.

I asked if this whole debate boiled down to education from the brewer or simply internally within the bar. If Dave walked in to a pub and was served his beer in the wrong glass, does he have cause to penalise the landlord or would he ask for the beer to be taken off? Is that too extreme?

RedNev said...

Is your poll working? It shows this:

Votes so far: 0
Days left to vote: 6

HardKnott Dave said...

Nev, you are right again, it's not working.

Annoyingly I don't know why.

Cooking Lager said...

I enjoyed your aromatic beer, Dave, for sure. A nice drop of pong.

As for the term "pong", it was only ever meant with a tongue in cheek and with a nod to those that describe lout as "chemical piss"

As for what glass I would drink pong out of, if I was inclined to neck the stuff? I would insist on a giant wine glass. If it's good enough for Zak it's good enough for me.

Velky Al said...

I have quite a few beer glasses in my flat. The usual suspects, nonic, weizen whatever, snifter and a couple of stemmed things, oh and some big IKEA mug type glasses. The one that gets the most regular use is the nonic. Not entirely sure why, but there we go.

RedNev said...

CL: that's exactly what I thought!

Off topic: I had a Hardknott Cool Fusion at our beerex in Southport. First time I've come across your beer. Very nice.

Washy said...

I think I recognise the bar where that photograph was taken. Hmm.

I can happily drink more than five pints in a session and it does annoy me when the beer is served in an inappropriate glass. Why are people who drink a lot regarded by some as not discerning? We drink a lot, pay a lot and should be accorded the same customer service as those who share a bottle of Trappiste over a couple of hours.

Tyson said...

Er, I was going to make a point. However, I think Chris has summarised the situation very well and Curmudgeon has also hit the nail on the head. So I shall retire and practice fastest finger first.

HardKnott Dave said...

Chris, thanks for your comments and interaction on twitter. I have no problem with agreeing to disagree and respect your views.

Perhaps because it's a subject that I feel passionate about I can go too far with my point and appreciate your comment about loosing the reader.

But it's not the drinkers fault, it's an industry problem. In fact my post probably makes it sound like I care that the drinker doesn't care, which is probably not that true. I think it matters and the fact that you notice, even if you don't care, is enough to show that the industry should care a great deal.

Should I go as far as to penalise the licensee, my customer? Well I think that would be a bad move, although as others have indicated, Coca Cola and Pepsi will withdraw branded fridges if they don't like the way they are used.

I do think brewers could do more to convince the on trade how important point of sale branding is. We do try, but perhaps not enough.

Nev, thanks for the compliment, they are always welcome, glad you enjoyed the beer. And thanks for pointing out the problem with the poll, apparently the inbuilt Blogger poll has a bug. I've had to replace it.

Washy, you know very well what pub that is. And further more, you would be perfectly miserable if your session was any less than 5 pints.

Ed said...

I've dug out my pewter tankard thanks to this post and am now drinking a nice drop of Gold Top out of it.

Phil said...

99% of the time, I'm drinking either ale from the cask or cider from the pin, and the glass should be as plain, anonymous and functional as possible. I loathe the very idea of branded glassware for the everyday pint (or half of cider).

On the rare occasions when I buy something that's strongly associated with a weird-shaped glass - which for me basically means bottled stuff and the fine products of K├Âning Ludwig - I notice and am displeased if the wrong glassware is used. But not half as displeased as I would be if (say) Thornbridge suddenly introduced a distinctive Thornbridge Pint Glass.

I think you're barking up the wrong tree, in short.

HardKnott Dave said...

"But not half as displeased as I would be if (say) Thornbridge suddenly introduced a distinctive Thornbridge Pint Glass."

So sad.

Meer For Beer said...

My partner and I plus friends were in the Cask last weekend and I would say that different glasses encourage more interest in their beers. A couple of the women in our group don't really drink anything other than wine but were interested in trying a beer because of the unusual glass.

Picking a beer because it comes in an interesting glass is one way to pick when you are overwhelmed by choice after all.

Personally I like to get a matching glass if they have them but as the polling option states life is too short to be overly worried by it. Although I admit I always seem to enjoy the beer more in the proper glass but I think that it more a mental thing rather than a taste thing.

StringersBeer said...

drinking horns, that's what we want.

Lew Bryson said...

I get the whole thing...but I've got this 0.5 liter German stoneware mug that's just the most comfortable fit in my hand, and is perfectly balanced between solid and light enough to be loose, and it keeps the beer cool longer...so even though it's completely opaque, I just love to drink from it. Is that a bad thing?

Phil said...

Dave - is it really sad to prefer a pint to come free of gimmickry and advertising?

Tyson said...

Choosing a beer simply on the basis of the glass it comes in is, frankly, bonkers.

HardKnott Dave said...

Tyson,

I couldn't agree more, choosing a beer purely on the basis of the glassware is, indeed, bonkers.

For most people the glassware is only part of the reason, but it can sway the decision. Also, there are quite clearly many people out there who are bonkers.

Stemless Wine Glasses said...

Frankly I'm not too bothered about the latter. And, of course, the prevalence of seasonal and guest beers in the cask beer market militates against branded glassware anyway.

Curmudgeon said...

Is it a compliment when someone nicks my comment?

percy blakeney said...

The current obsession with branded glassware is for morons and poseurs. Having the right shaped glass for the appropriate beer is important where speciality beers are concerned.

Guinness used to be served in conical glasses and before that in jugs so why is the tulip treated as if it were essential nowadays?

Nonics were invented to avoid chipping during washing not for the benefit of the beer.

The success of the advertising industry in brainwashing people in this respect has reached the point where several large pub chains insist on bartenders turning each and every glass they serve so that the branded label faces the customer. Blech!

I love that the author presumes that craft beer lovers must wish to advertise that they are drinking something unusual -as if it were a given that they were merely engaging in a form of social one-upmanship. It doesn't seem to occur to him that what's in the glass might be more important.

For the record, aside from speciality beers where the glass shape can be important, I thoroughly object to branded glassware.