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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A New IPA Glass From Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head

Update.  I started out the post with "facts."  Alan McLeod did some digging and exposes the fraud behind this whole sorry affair.  The good thing is that I no longer have to feel bad about hating these glasses.

First the facts, ma'am:
In April, the Bavarian glassmaker Spiegelau will release the world’s first glass designed specifically for India Pale Ales, whose hops-heavy brewing process gives them an especially pungent, fruity aroma. Designed in collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada--two craft brewers known for their IPAs--the unusual glass features wave-like ridges toward the bottom that help bring out the beer’s flavor. “As you’re tilting your glass against your face, it creates more resistance to the liquid, which pushes more carbon dioxide gas and hop aromatics out of the liquid and into the balloon-shaped chamber of the upper glass,” explains Dogfish founder and CEO Sam Calagione.
It's the brainstorm of Spiegelau's Matt Rutkowski, whose thinking on glassware produced what can only be described as the ugliest champagne glass on earth--to which the IPA glass bears a family resemblance.  Well, never mind, tasting panelists at both Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada independently agreed that of 12 different designs, this one was the best.  The new glass also earns kudos from MBAA's Karl Ockert as a flavor-maximizer. 

There are those who believe glassware affects a beer's flavor and those who don't.  I am in the believer camp.  I have experienced an aroma-deadening effect in the shaker pint as compared to an identical beer poured into a tulip pint.  (The English nonic pint is fine, but not as nice as the tulip.)  Beer glasses can affect the behavior of a beer, as when a hyper-carbonated Belgian is poured into a goblet, allowing the head to dissipate as the beer enters the glass, or a weiss vase, which encourages a lovely, thick head.  Furthermore, we know that flavor is actually the play of complex inputs in the mouth and nose, including nerves in the mouth that sense pressure and viscosity, retronasal aroma, and the brute sense of taste from the taste buds.  To the extent glassware can affect aroma and texture, it will affect perception of flavor.

I am also a huge fan of branding.  Even if glassware had no effect on flavor, I'd love the differences in vessels--the tulip glasses that evoke Belgian beer, the steins of Germany, and hell, even our terrible shaker pints, which are so classically American.   Dimpled mugs, pokals, pilsner flutes--they all suggest a beer and a place.  Wonderful.

But this IPA glass fails on one of the most important dimensions--appearance.  It's just embarrassing.  I have really tried to love the Sam Adams glass, another engineered vessel that uses every trick in the book to boost flavor.  Like the IPA glass, though, it's faintly ridiculous.  There's a kind of technical fussiness, blind to the realities of aesthetics, that results in really visual absurdity. The IPA glass looks like a creation of Dr. Seuss--and not in a good way.  Curves are nice, but these are childish--they don't flow elegantly, they bulge foolishly, like the bubbles protecting the Michelin man.

When machine-made clear glassware first hit the scene in the 19th century, it helped popularize pale beers.  Why?  Because it showcased their appearance.  Ever since, proprietary glassware had focused at least in part on highlighting the beer itself.  A long, slender pilsner glass is nothing special to look at itself, but it displays the beer gorgeously.  When we drink a beer, our minds are working overtime to affect our sense of flavor, too.  Even the concept of flavor is one more evolved in humans than any other animal, and is a fusion of tons of mental and sensory inputs.  In a laboratory setting, it may be that my mind could filter out the "extraneous" notions of form and shape and verify that the new IPA glass produces the richest flavor.  But in a pub, I'd just feel silly with this glass.  IPAs are quickly becoming the classic American beer and they deserve their own glass.  But not this one.


  1. I dunno... I think I need to see and hold one to really get a sense of it.

    I think the aesthetic of the SA glass is okay, but as an owner of 2 of them, I never actually use them. The reason for that is that the SA glasses are simply too small. The proportions seem wrong in the hand (caveat -- I have large hands). And the narrow base makes me fear that I'll knock the thing over. On the other hand, I've had a "large" SA glass when served Boston Lager in airports, and the larger size made everything seem a bit more open and proportional.

    This glass is one that doesn't look quite as "busy" as the SA glass, and even the waves don't to me distract as much from the rest of the glass as it's clearly where I'll be holding the glass. However, it's a glass that I'd still be worried on the size. Too small and it will seem tiny and delicate -- not the image that fits with a big brash hoppy beer. Supposedly it's a 19 oz glass, though, so I'm thinking it might be large enough to have proper proportions.

  2. Cheers!

    I can appreciate the novelty of the new glass from a business perspective, especially when so much money comes through for Dogfish via their IPAs, but I don't think I'd ever see this glass outside of my own home. If I buy one, that is.

    That being said, I also place value in making beer a full sensory experience. I'd love to try the new glass, if only once.

    I'm curious about what the rejected glasses looked like and how far off they were from replicating similar experiences than the chosen design.

  3. I have a lot of problems with this glass, that I actually HAVE one, thanks to my friendly neighborhood Dogfish Head rep (who gleefully pushed one into my hand at an event Sunday afternoon after reading my curmudgeonly tweets and Facebook postings about it), they all fade to nothing in the face of this one: IT IS TOO DELICATE. I'm afraid to clink glasses with this, I'm almost afraid to rest a bottle on the rim. These won't last in bars (the glassware theft problem aside), and they take up a LOT of room. Not heavy enough to be stable, either. But you know...I haven't had an IPA out of it yet. Doing that later this afternoon, and will try to be objective. I promise.

  4. Now I understand, Jeff. I hate branding. But you may have picked that up already.

    One thing I would like to know is if brewers have used these glasses as part of the development and evaluation of their IPAs. See, like stereo speakers and recording quality, you can only say that brewers know the beer through the medium they use. Any time I have been in a brewery, I see a hell of a lot of shaker glasses being used on a day to day basis. Were I to care to have the beer as the brewers intended (as opposed to the PR staff) I can only presume that I need to use the same glassware to achieve that effect.

    Or, I could just use whatever glass is at hand as I don't think they make all that much difference once your nose is well down into the glass.

  5. Brad, I haven't seen it, but Lew's comment gives currency to your concern.

    Bryan, I had the same thought about the rejected glasses. This one looks so much like the champagne glass, I wonder if they were all just variations on a theme?

    Lew, I'd love to hear a report back.

    Alan, I know you are one of the glass skeptics. I've always meant to ask--have you tried them side-by-side? I have, and that's why I'm convinced.

  6. I'm partly a glass skeptic and partly not. I.e. I think a tulip will generally give you a different aroma experience than a shaker pint, as the shape allows for a bit more surface area to let aroma escape and the shape tends to better hold that aroma in the glass.

    But I don't see the reason to have a Duvel tulip and a Bruery tulip and a Cuvee des Trolls tulip outside. Functionally they're all the same.

    In fact, I don't own any tulips, so I drink most of my belgian beers (when I don't use a shaker pint) out of a larger wine glass. I think it gets the job done.

    So I guess I might not be a glassware "skeptic", but I know I'm not a glassware "snob".

  7. I have (at least the sammy one) and I am not at all convinced. I have also tried 2938 other glasses (and I know you have so I needn't ask) and am quite bewildered by the idea of any "magic glass" other than the closer you get your nose into reasonably enclosed space the better you get the aroma. Close a hand over a shaker glass and shove your nose in there is an excellent way to get a good sniff even if it is a PR and branding immune way to get a good sniff.

  8. PS: why not add a small microphone that can be patched through an iPhone so that the next level of magic glass enhanced my auditory perception, too.

  9. Well, Snarky McSnarkerson, I don't believe anyone's arguing for magic glassware. There's no reason I should have to crouch over my glass wafting bellows of air to my nose through what may well be a hand that's contributing its own aromas of grime or hand soap.

    But I agree with Brad--a wine glass (gasp!) is as good an all-purpose glass as there is. Since most people have them lying around the house, I usually recommend them as a good utility glass.

  10. Shaker pint glasses are bad...most of us agree on that. They're popular because they're cheap, easy to stack and a lot of people don't know any better. I am definitely in the "beer tastes better in the right glass" camp. But this SN/Dogfish albatross is not what we need. It's dreadfully top heavy and will tip over and make a mess with ease. In my mind, a large wine glass/tulip is a good option for most beers. The Commons (oh haven't been there yet) uses what I consider to be perfect glasses. A few others have limited supplies of something similar. Brewpubs will be slow to change because their glassware takes a beating...and good glassware is expensive and breakable.

  11. Did you see this wee fact a comment at a news site noted?