Hop Head column: Your pint glass is so passe | VailDaily.com

Hop Head column: Your pint glass is so passe

Krista Driscollkdriscoll@vaildaily.comVAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyKrista Driscoll loves hops.

An article appeared on my desk not too long ago, lovingly torn from the pages of The Denver Post, with a headline that implored me to “Shatter those pint glasses, for the love of beer.” In the clip, Josh Noel, of the Chicago Tribune, spelled out the latest step in the ascension of beer culture: glassware.Noel lamented the fact that though American beer is no longer “largely terrible,” most establishments continue to serve everything from mass-produced domestics to high-octane specialty beers in pint glasses. These glasses are durable, stackable and can withstand the constant abuse of commercial dishwashers and clumsy patrons, but believe it or not, they can actually detract from your beer-drinking experience. In the 1950s, the idea was introduced to wine-quaffing circles that the size, shape and even thickness of a glass can dramatically change the aromas and flavors that are imparted to the consumer. The father of this radical deviation in drinking was Claus Josef Riedel, a ninth-generation glassmaker from Austria.Since then, the Riedel company has produced a slew of varietal-specific wine glasses, enlisting help from panels of vintners who compare style after style of glass to determine the perfect vessel for each vintage. “Just as there are different types of skis for different challenges,” said Maximilian Riedel, Claus’ grandson and CEO of Riedel Crystal of America, at a recent wine-glass seminar in Beaver Creek.So, what does this have to do with beer and, more specifically, the notion that my collection of pints should be pitched off the nearest rooftop?With the advent of the craft-brewing boom, a few companies started creating glasses specifically for their brews. According to Maximilian Riedel, those original forays into matching a beer with a glass were more marketing ploy than science. This still left a vapid gap between the ever-evolving glassware for wine and the archaic mugs and clunky glasses into which bartenders were sloshing our precious brews. Into this void marched Spiegelau, which is attempting a beer-glass revolution in the same vein as parent company Riedel’s mind-blowing epiphany of the 1950s. Maximilian Riedel said consumers in North America are educated about their beer and brewers are starting to demand that the care and quality put into each craft brew be mirrored in the glass that Spiegelau builds to contain it. “We build the shell around it,” Maximilian Riedel said. “Beer doesn’t have the acidity levels, so we use a different approach (than with wine).”Panels of brewers taste their specific styles of beer in different glasses, narrowing them down to which shapes capture the aromas, which sizes help dissipate the alcohol hit in the bigger beers and which glass thicknesses direct the beer to the proper parts of the palate. The research has paid off, and Spiegelau now makes a handful of glasses for specific beer styles – wheat, lager and pilsner among them – which have been fine-tuned over the past few years. The latest project for the company is a collaboration with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head to create an India pale ale glass.”The demand is big,” Riedel said. “For microbreweries, it’s a new trend. The brewers really love this, and the market follows.”From the fridge: Left Hand Milk StoutAs I haven’t yet had the opportunity to grow my collection of beer glasses, I poured this sweet, dark beer into a wine glass. Specifically, I put it in a rose bud-shaped Riedel glass designed for pinot noir. The bell of the glass opened up the flavors of the beer, and the tapered and flared lip concentrated the aromas of cream-and-sugar coffee. If you already have a collection of wine glasses, they can serve in a pinch to elevate your beer. As Noel said, even leaving it in a bottle is better than ruining it in a pint glass.Glass snobbery aside, this beer is one of my favorite stalwarts of the Colorado brewery compendium. The hue is a deep brown, almost black, with a thick brown head, and the blend of six different malts weaves an intricate pattern below the easy-drinking surface. Left Hand made this beer sweet by using milk sugar, commonly known as lactose, in the brewing process, which gives it a much different aftertaste and mouth feel than other sweet stouts.Pair this beer with sweet barbecue or chicken and waffles with a giant pat of maple butter. Or bake it into cupcakes with one of the recipes on the Left Hand website. I dumped this beer from the wine glass into a pint glass just to see what all of the fuss was about. Almost immediately, the coffee and chocolate notes disappeared, leaving behind a sort of flat, milky nose. The pretty head on the beer also receded rapidly. Though still delicious, it proved that perhaps the Spiegelau guys are on to something.

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