Next time you open a bottle of beer and reach into your cabinet for a glass to pour it in, stop and consider that glass. Chances are, it’s an ordinary pint glass (or soda glass). No frill and very durable. But in bars, it’s quickly becoming extinct.
Look around the next time you’re out. You’ll likely see that specialty beer glasses – customized and uniquely shaped, emblazoned with the name of the brew it contains – far outnumber the humble pints. Instead there are snifters, stemmed pokals, and French jelly glasses.
This has been the case with imports for some time now. Every import requires its own particular vessel, the common perception being the beer will taste best if drank from the proper glass. Belgium is notable not only for its beer, but also for its large number of specialty glasses. The number of glass variations is so absurd that a good friend (and fellow connoisseur) jokes that the Belgian glass industry exists solely to support the Belgian beer industry.
Stella Artois is a particular excellent example of the specialty glassware trend, stretched to the extreme. In most establishments, Stella is served in their signature 11.2 centiliter chalice (or goblet) with the gold rim and star-imprinted stem. Capitalizing on the chalice’s recognition, Stella’s marketing team formed an entire advertising campaign around it. Further, specially-marked 12-packs of Stella bottles offered a free engraved chalice by simply entering an online code.
Was a free, personalized glass reason enough to buy a half case of Stella?* You bet it was.
American breweries also took note of this specialty-glass-equals-fancy-import-beer trend: Sam Adams introduced their Boston lager glass a while back, putting a new, rounded spin on the traditional pint. According to the brewery, the glass’s notable bulb or tulip shape gives “a full sensory drinking experience by fully showcasing Samuel Adams Boston lager’s complex balance of malt and hop flavors.”
Whether Sam Adams’s glassware will impart an air of refinement, as those Belgian imports are arguably intended, is anyone’s guess. They say it’s supposed to make a difference in taste, and that’s well and good, I suppose. But perhaps I’m overcomplicating the point. Maybe it’s just about brand recognition, as glasses carry logos. Or maybe it’s just about selling a collectible.
I’m likely not the only drinker to hold intrinsic value in a glass from a notable evening or event. So the next time you open your kitchen or bar cabinet, maybe you too will pass over that simple pint for that special, fancy glass you bought on that one vacation, where you first tasted a new and exotic brew. Or maybe it’s that simple pint that holds the fondest memories of all. Regardless, here’s hoping those memories will make your beer taste that much better.
* Stella is a damn good beer. So it’s not like I had to buy a dozen bottles of swill for the free glass. Not that swill would have stopped me, I’m a sucker for free stuff.
More importantly, Stella’s marketing and wider availability in the last 5-10 years has resulted in something of a pooh-poohing by snootier beer drinkers, who unfortunately equate availability with poor quality – unless it’s really bad, then it’s ironic). This is hardly the case: as I remarked in a Booze News entry in January 2012 (citing an Economist article), Stella is a top-selling beer, even in Belgium of all places.