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.
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.